Drug company settles over breast cancer a half century on

The Melnick sisters’ case, settled with Eli Lilly for an unspecified amount on the second day of a trial in Boston, was the first of scores of similar claims over diethylstilboestrol (DES) filed in the US to go to trial.

Also known as stilboestrol, the drug was prescribed to pregnant women, including in Australia, over three decades to prevent miscarriages, premature births and other complications.

It was taken off the market in the early 1970s after it was linked to a rare vaginal cancer. Studies later showed it did not prevent miscarriages.

Over 10 million people were exposed to the drug worldwide. According to Carol Devine, coordinator of DES Action Australia – NSW, the TGA estimates 68,000 Australians were exposed but she said the number could be as high as 740,000.

Aaron Levine, a lawyer for the Melnick sisters, said Eli Lilly failed to test the drug's effect on fetuses before promoting it as a way to prevent miscarriages