Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Are Lyme Disease and Meningitis similar?

BUSINESS

Pfizer Sued For $7 Billion

Nigeria Alleges Deaths, Disabilities Caused By Drug Study
June 5, 2007
By BASHIR ADIGUN, Associated Press
ABUJA, Nigeria -- The Nigerian government filed a lawsuit Monday against Pfizer Inc., asking for $7 billion in damages over allegations that the pharmaceutical company conducted a drug experiment that led to deaths and disabilities among children more than a decade ago, court papers showed.

The civil case filed in the capital, Abuja, is separate from a legal challenge launched in the northern state of Kano that seeks $2 billion from Pfizer, although all of the cases stem from the same mid-1990s drug study.

Pfizer has denied the allegations in the Kano case, which are substantively similar to those in the Abuja-based suit.

In the civil suit filed in Kano, authorities allege that Pfizer illegally conducted a drug experiment on 200 children during a meningitis epidemic in the state's main city, also called Kano, in 1996, resulting in deaths, brain damage, paralysis and slurred speech in many of the children.

Pfizer treated 100 meningitis-infected children with an experimental antibiotic, Trovan. Another 100 children, who were control patients in the study, received an approved antibiotic, ceftriaxone - but the dose was lower than recommended, the families' lawyers alleged.

As many as 11 children in the study died. Others had physical disabilities and brain damage.

Pfizer has insisted that its records show none of the deaths was linked to Trovan or substandard treatment. That civil suit is asking the judge to award the Kano state $2 billion. Both that case and a related criminal action against Pfizer officers were postponed Monday after the plaintiff's counsel failed to show up for the initial court hearing.

The judge hearing the case said criminal proceedings lodged against company officers would now begin July 4; a related civil case seeking the monetary damages was to begin July 9.

State and company officials were not immediately available for comment. Nigeria's government is in disarray after the May 29 inauguration of new governors, state assemblies and elected federal officers.

In the Abuja civil case, the government is asking for $500 million for treatment, compensation and support for the victims of the drug test and their families. Another $450 million is earmarked for damages related to money spent to overcome societal misgivings related to the test, and $1 billion is sought to pay for health programs. The federal government is also seeking $5 billion as general damages.

New York-based Pfizer has denied wrongdoing. A federal court in Manhattan dismissed a 2001 lawsuit by disabled Nigerians who allegedly took part in the study. The case is under appeal.

Pfizer has its research and development headquarters in Groton and New London, Conn.

Authorities in Kano state are blaming the Pfizer controversy for widespread suspicion of government public health policies, particularly the global effort to vaccinate children against polio, which has met strong resistance in northern Nigeria.

Islamic leaders in largely Muslim Kano had seized on the Pfizer controversy as evidence of a U.S.-led conspiracy. Rumors that polio vaccines spread AIDS or infertility spurred Kano and another heavily Muslim state, Zamfara, to boycott a long-term campaign to vaccinate millions.

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