Bayer defends sale of drug linked to HIV

Friday, May 23, 2003

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Chemical and drug maker Bayer said Thursday that it acted responsibly and in line with the best medical knowledge at the time when it sold a blood-clotting product that saved hemophiliacs from potentially fatal bleeding -- but was linked to the risk of HIV infection.

The company's statement was in response to a New York Times report that during the 1980s it sold an older version of the medication in Latin America and Asia while marketing a newer, safer product in the United States and Europe.

The New York Times, citing documents from earlier litigation, said the Bayer's Cutter Biological division continued selling old stocks after it introduced a version in February 1984 that had been heat-treated to kill HIV.

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

Bayer and three other companies that made the concentrate have settled 15 years of lawsuits from people who took the drug, paying about $600 million the newspaper said.

The documents from that litigation include internal memos, minutes of marketing meetings and telexes to foreign distributors.

"Bayer has always behaved responsibly, ethically, and humanely to provide lifesaving products for the global hemophilia community," the Bayer statement said.

Bayer said there were concerns at first that heat-treating might make the factor less safe or less effective.

The Times said at least 100 hemophiliacs in Hong Kong and Taiwan alone contracted AIDS after using the older product.

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