Bayer, of Germany, is facing an escalation of its legal problems as lawyers from more than 50 US firms gather in Chicago on Wednesday to co-ordinate their actions over Baycol, the cholesterol drug.
The troubled chemicals and pharmaceuticals group also faces an investigation by the state prosecutor in the German city of Cologne, which launched an inquiry into whether Bayer withdrew Baycol quick enough after it was linked to more than 50 deaths worldwide.
The lawyers, representing hundreds of patients and their families, will decide how to extract maximum damages from the German company. “It’s all about rolling up our sleeves and working together,” said Kenneth Moll, one of the organisers of the meeting.
Mr Moll said some of the tasks included looking at patients’ medical records and Bayer’s marketing campaigns. The law firms have already filed a petition to consolidate their moves into one class-action lawsuit.
On Wednesday, three doctors who specialise in heart disease will make a presentation to the lawyers.
Bayer, which blames the deaths on a cross-reaction with another fat-reducing drug, Gemfibrozil, said that it had acted responsibly and in its patients’ interest at all times.
Marc Pfeffer, a Harvard professor who has studied the safety of Pravastatin, a cholesterol-lowering treatment made by Bayer’s rival Bristol-Myers Squibb, said it was extremely difficult for companies to spot rare side-effects, even in studies with tens of thousands of patients.
How quickly Bayer knew about the problem with Baycol – known as Lipobay outside the US – would have been “a mathematics game,” dependent on how many patients took the drug over a long period of time, he said.
“It’s a question of who knew what, when and how long does it take them to cry ‘uncle'” he said.
The company faces more than 15 applications for class actions in the US, and analysts have put the potential cost of litigation at between $500m-$3bn.
However, lawyers concede that it would not be easy to prove a connection between the deaths and the drug, or to establish fault on the part of Bayer.
Bayer will take a charge of between E250m-E300m ($363.5m-$436.1m) to cover the cost of withdrawing Baycol, but has made no provision for costs arising from the lawsuits.
Bayer shares have fallen 20 per cent since the withdrawal on August 8 on worries over profit implications, uncertainty over the company’s future corporate strategy and concerns about potentially costly legal action from those claiming to have suffered from the drug.
Andreas Theisen, analyst at West LB Panmure said the legal claims could haunt Bayer for some time unless it decided to settle out of court.
“Despite the fact that Bayer believes it has acted correctly, it cannot be excluded that the company will make efforts to reach settlements soon,” he said.