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Blood Patients Suing Bayer

Several hemophiliacs allege that they were unnecessarily exposed to HIV and hepatitis.

June 04, 2003|From Associated Press

Several hemophiliacs filed a lawsuit against Bayer Corp. and other companies, claiming they exposed patients to HIV and hepatitis C by selling medicine made with blood from sick, high-risk donors.

The lawsuit alleges that the companies continued distributing the blood-clotting product in Asia and Latin America in 1984 and 1985, even after they stopped selling it in the U.S. because of the known risk of HIV and hepatitis transmission.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in San Francisco, seeks class-action status on behalf of thousands of foreign hemophiliacs, attorney Robert Nelson said.

"This is a worldwide tragedy," Nelson said. "Thousands of hemophiliacs have unnecessarily died from AIDS and many thousands more are infected with HIV or hepatitis C."

Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer said that it would examine the suit and prepare its defense.

"Bayer at all times complied with all regulations in force in the relevant countries based on the amount of scientific evidence available at the time," the company said, adding that decisions made 20 years ago should not be judged by today's scientific knowledge.

Bayer said it was surprised by the suit since it and other companies involved had come to an understanding with patients in the 1990s and spent $600 million in the U.S. alone to help them.

The lawsuit also names Baxter International Inc., Armour Pharmaceutical Co. and Alpha Therapeutic Corp.

The medicine, called Factor VIII concentrate, can stop or prevent potentially fatal bleeding in people with hemophilia.

Early in the AIDS epidemic, the medicine was commonly made using mingled plasma from 10,000 or more donors. Because there was not yet a screening test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, thousands of hemophiliacs were infected.

But the lawsuit alleges that Bayer and the others refused to take precautions that could have made the product safer.

As of 1992, the contaminated blood products had infected at least 5,000 hemophiliacs in Europe with HIV. More than 2,000 already had developed AIDS and 1,250 had died from the disease, the lawsuit said.

By the mid-1990s in Japan, hemophiliacs accounted for the majority of the country's 4,000 reported cases of HIV and virtually all infections of Japan's hemophiliacs have been linked to contaminated blood products from the U.S., the lawsuit said.

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