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More than 40,000 former fen-phen users who claim the diet drugs caused minor heart valve damage would be compensated faster — but get significantly less money — under a proposed deal to speed review of less-serious cases in the protracted litigation. The agreement, between drugmaker Wyeth and lawyers representing more than 100,000 former users of its Pondimin and Redux pills, would set up a new $1.275 billion fund, Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth told The Associated Press Wednesday. That fund would cover payments for about 40,170 people with non-life-threatening valve damage, the biggest group of claimants. Michael Fishbein, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said if the agreement wins court approval quickly, payments to those people could be processed next year. “It’s a straightforward review process without a lot of delays,” he said, unlike the complex reviews of current and past medical records for patients who chose to participate in the $3.75 billion national settlement Wyeth reached in 1999. Under the proposal, independent heart specialists would evaluate a claimant’s echocardiogram, or heart ultrasound. Each claimant would be guaranteed at least $2,000. Those with documented heart valve damage would receive more. “They will receive payment for some share of that $1.275 billion amount and they will also be guaranteed that if their condition worsened” by the end of 2011, they will receive additional benefits, Wyeth attorney William Ruane told The Associated Press. Plaintiffs attorney Jim Doyle of Houston, who helped hammer out the agreement, said the average plaintiff — a woman aged 50 to 54 when she took the pills — would get about $68,000 from the new fund. Under the existing settlement, she could have received as much as $473,000. “My clients think that’s a huge difference,” said Doyle, who represents about 1,000 people. But the agreement guarantees each claimant will get something, and the money will be available sooner. Wyeth pulled Pondimin and Redux, the fenfluramine half of fen-phen, from the market in September 1997 amid reports some users had heart valve damage and a few had a deadly lung condition. Fen-phen was never an FDA-approved combination, and the phentermine half is still sold. The many lawsuits against Wyeth that followed were consolidated into a huge class-action case, and Wyeth established a $3.75 billion trust fund to pay claims of people who chose not to sue individually. The company has already set aside $16.6 billion in reserves for the fen-phen litigation, and only $3.3 billion remains, leading some analysts to speculate the litigation will bankrupt the company. The new agreement was filed late Tuesday night with U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in Philadelphia, the judge overseeing the litigation. If he approves the agreement, claimants will be notified about their options. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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