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Omniscan UK Libel Case Stifles Criticism, Doctor Claims

Dec 21, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Omniscan Drug

Danish Radiologist First to Warn Gadolinium Contrast Dyes

A Danish radiologist who was among the first to warn that gadolinium contrast dyes could be associated with nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) says GE Healthcare, the maker of Omniscan, is using a libel suit in the United Kingdom (UK) to shut him up. 

Henrick Thomsen began speaking out about NSF and its association with gadolinium dyes in 2007, after about 30 patients at Copenhagen University Hospital developed the condition.  According to The Guardian, GE Healthcare says the alleged defamation occurred during a 15-minute presentation Thomas made to fellow radiologists in 2007 at Oxford University, and in statements made in an article published in Thomsen's name in the journal Imaging Management.

Thomsen's lawyers are using a concept known as "qualified privilege" to defend him.  As a doctor, Thomsen claims he had a duty to report his experience with Omniscan, and his audience had a legitimate interest in receiving it. For its part, GE Healthcare asserts  that  qualified privilege doesn't protect Thomsen because he acted "maliciously".

For now, because of the libel claim against him, The Guardian says Thomsen has stopped lecturing in the UK.  He also claims patients in England are  being put at serious risk because he and other scientists are prevented from sharing their knowledge as a result of the way the libel courts in the country operate.

GE Healthcare Spent £380,000, or $614,000 USD to sue Thomsen in the UK

GE Healthcare has already spent £380,000, or $614,000 USD, to sue Thomsen in the UK.  According to The Guardian, if the drug giant wins, Thomsen will have to pay its costs.  The case is not expected to reach court for another 18 months. 

Strangely, even though Omniscan's possible side effects have been much discussed in both the US and Denmark, GE Healthcare has not taken any legal action in either of those countries.  Critics of the UK's tough - some would say draconian - libel laws have claimed for a while that they have a chilling effect" on democracy, and many are now pointing to Thomsen's case as an example.

 NSF is a rare, debilitating and often fatal disease that appears to only affect people with severe kidney disease who have been exposed to these gadolinium contrast dyes during MRI and MRA procedures. In the U.S., Omniscan and all other gadolinium dyes currently in use have been required to bear a black box warning regarding the potential for NSF since 2007, and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is currently considering even tougher labeling requirements for the drugs.  

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