Bayer Legal Woes Mount - The Guardian (London) - August 18, 2001

Bayer Legal Woes Mount
By: Andrew Clark
The Guardian (London)
August 18, 2001

An American lawyer yesterday vowed to bring one of the largest lawsuits in the history of the pharmaceuticals industry against troubled German firm Bayer, over the health risks associated with its anti-cholesterol drug Baycol.

As legal claims began to mount around the world, the Department of Health revealed that it had received 453 reports of 'suspected adverse drug reactions' in Britain over Baycol, which is also known as Lipobay. These include five cases of rhabdomyolysis, muscle degeneration that can lead to failure of internal organs.

Bayer withdrew Baycol from the market last week, in a shock move which cost the company more than 600m (pounds 380m) and sent its shares plunging by 27%. Lawyers yesterday questioned the firm's claim that side effects were down to doctors failing to follow prescription guidelines.

Ed Fagan, a US lawyer famed for fighting German banks over compensation for Holocaust victims, said: 'They killed people. The drug killed people. In hundreds of thousands of people there's a ticking timebomb. It's called Baycol or Lipobay.' He predicted Bayer would face 'one of the largest litigation matters in pharmaceutical history'.

Another lawyer, Chicago-based Kenneth Moll, has signed up hundreds of US plaintiffs. He wants Bayer to fund blood or urine tests to diagnose muscle breakdown in everyone using the drug, at a cost of up to Dollars 6bn (pounds 380bn).

Bayer said it was 'unperturbed' and intends to contest litigation 'vigorously'. 'Bayer is surprised by the reaction of the financial markets, which clearly overrate the litigation's chances for success,' it said.

Glaxo SmithKline, which co-markets the drug in the US, was named in some lawsuits, sending its shares down 31p to pounds 18.23.

In Britain, doctors have reported two deaths of patients taking Baycol, but neither linked to muscle weakness. Last year, British doctors wrote 767,100 prescriptions for the drug.