Taiwanese Hemophiliacs File Lawsuit Against Bayer Over Blood-Clotting Products Allegedly Made With HIV-Tainted Blood

Lawyers representing seven Taiwanese citizens on Thursday filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in Los Angeles against the U.S. unit of Bayer and four other pharmaceutical companies, alleging that the companies knowingly sold blood-clotting products that could have been tainted with blood from HIV-positive people, Reuters/Yahoo! India News reports (Reuters/Yahoo! India News, 8/11). Cutter Biological, a unit of Bayer, in the mid-1980s allegedly sold to Asian and Latin American hemophiliacs units of Factor VIII concentrate -- a blood product that can stop potentially fatal bleeding in people with hemophilia -- that had a high risk for transmitting HIV to the patients. The suit claims that Cutter allegedly knew the products carried a risk of HIV infection, and the company sold a safer, heat-treated version of the product in the United States and other Western countries (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/3). The suit -- filed against Bayer, Baxter Healthcare Corp., Armour Pharmaceutical Co., Alpha Therapeutic Corp., a unit of Japan's Mitsubishi Pharma Corp., and the Aventis Behring unit of Aventis -- alleges that executives knew that the untreated Factor VIII was potentially tainted with HIV and that the product was sold on foreign markets for more than a year after the treated version was available in 1984 to "avoid wasting existing stockpiles," according to the Wall Street Journal (Dean, Wall Street Journal, 8/11).

John McNicholas, an attorney for the Taiwanese plaintiffs, said that the allegations are based in part on Cutter internal documents filed in a separate U.S. class-action lawsuit (Dean, Asian Wall Street Journal, 8/11). Bayer spokesperson Michael Diehl said that the company had not yet been formally notified of the lawsuit but that Bayer "emphatically denies misconduct in the marketing of these products in the mid-1980s," adding, "Decisions made nearly two decades ago were based on the best scientific and medical information of the time and were consistent with the regulations in place at the time." Cutter, Bayer, Baxter, Armour and Alpha in 1996 reached a $600 million settlement of a class-action suit involving 6,000 U.S. hemophiliacs who had been infected with untreated Factor VIII or a similar product. The companies admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, saying that the plaintiffs' HIV infection occurred before the products were replaced with heat-treated versions on the U.S. market (Wall Street Journal, 8/11). Fifteen plaintiffs from Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom in June filed a separate class-action suit in a San Francisco federal court on behalf of patients in other countries who received tainted Factor VIII (Reuters/Yahoo! India News, 8/11).

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