Baxter International Inc. and other drug companies sold blood-clotting medicine for hemophiliacs that carried a high risk of transmitting AIDS to markets in Europe more than a year after switching to newer, safer products in the United States, according to a lawsuit filed here Friday.
The suit names as plaintiffs several dozen people in Italy and the United Kingdom who claim they, or a now deceased relative, contracted HIV from blood factor concentrates manufactured in the late 1970s and mid 1980s by six pharmaceutical companies and their subsidiaries. The suit says some plaintiffs also contracted Hepatitis C from the contaminated concentrates, called Factor VIII and Factor IX.
Baxter’s co-defendants in the suit are Bayer AG, Armour Pharmaceutical Co., Alpha Therapeutic Corp., Aventis Behring LLC and Immuno-US Inc.
Cutter Biological, a division of Bayer, introduced a safer medicine heat-treated to kill HIV in 1984, the same year a report from the Centers for Disease Control found 74 percent of hemophiliacs who received blood factors made from the plasma of U.S. donors were HIV positive.
Yet Cutter and other companies continued shipping the old products overseas for more than a year and “refused to recall old stocks of products they knew to be contaminated,” the suit said.
Baxter representatives declined to comment Friday. The other companies could not be reached.
A written statement from Bayer on behalf of Cutter, which was quoted in a 2003 New York Times article about similar claims surfacing in Asia and South America, said, “Decisions made nearly two decades ago were based on the best scientific information of the time and were consistent with the regulations in place.”
The plasma used to make the earliest versions of the blood-clotting medicine in the 1970s and 1980s came from thousands of paid donors who, in the infancy of the AIDS epidemic, were not tested for the virus. As a result, plasma from these donors often carried HIV and strains of hepatitis.
The suit alleges the companies knew about heat treatments and detergents that could kill bloodborne diseases but failed to use them on products shipped overseas. It also alleges the companies delayed using available tests to determine if plasma donors had a history of viral hepatitis.
The plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $75,000 and a jury trial to address charges of fraudulent ommission and concealment, wrongful death and negligence.
The suit was filed in the District Court of Northern Illinois because most of the companies manufactured a large percentage of their Factor VIII and IX concentrates in or near Illinois.
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