AEGiS-SC: Bad blood between hemophiliacs, Bayer: Patients sue over tainted transfusions spreading HIV, hep C San Francisco ChronicleImportant note: Information in this article was accurate in 2003. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date.
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Bad blood between hemophiliacs, Bayer: Patients sue over tainted transfusions spreading HIV, hep C

San Francisco Chronicle - Tuesday, June 3, 2003
Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer


A San Francisco attorney filed a class-action lawsuit Monday on behalf of thousands of hemophiliacs who claim that Bayer Corp. and several other companies knowingly sold blood products contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, alleges that the companies conspired to sell blood-clotting products that were manufactured using blood from sick, high-risk donors.

The suit also alleges that companies stopped selling the products in the United States because of the known risk of HIV and hepatitis transmission but continued distributing the infected products in Latin America, Asia and Europe in 1984 and 1985.

"Tens of thousands of hemophiliacs globally were infected with HIV or (hepatitis C) after receiving blood products from blood plasma that was originally manufactured in the United States," said San Francisco attorney Robert J. Nelson. "This is a worldwide tragedy. Thousands of hemophiliacs have unnecessarily died from AIDS and many thousands more are infected with HIV or hepatitis C."

The companies named in the suit include Berkeley-based Cutter Biological, which is a division of Bayer; Baxter Healthcare Corp.'s Hyland Pharmaceutical division; Armour Pharmaceutical Co. and Alpha Therapeutic Corp.

Representatives for Bayer, which is headquartered in Germany, could not be reached for comment on Monday night. In earlier published reports, Bayer has denied wrongdoing, saying Cutter acted responsibly.

The focus of the litigation is the hemophiliac medicine, called Factor VIII concentrate, which is used to stop or prevent bleeding in people with blood- clotting problems. Bayer produces the product at a plant in West Berkeley.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Factor VIII was manufactured from plasma from as many 10,000 donors, according to the complaint. Often these donors were low-income people paid to donate plasma. Before there was a screening test to detect HIV in donated blood, thousands of hemophiliacs were infected and developed AIDS.

Bayer and the three other companies paid $600 million in 1997 to settle cases filed in the United States on behalf of hemophiliacs infected in the early 1980s.

The lawsuit alleges there were precautions Bayer and the other companies could have taken such as using unpaid volunteers who were less likely to be intravenous drug users than indigents, homeless people and prison inmates.

"We alleged that they basically turned a blind eye to the screening technologies that were available," Nelson said Monday night. "These companies sought to buy blood to ensure their supply. They basically went to prisons.

They went to the Tenderloin. They went to areas with high ratios of transmittable diseases such as hepatitis C."

In February 1984, American companies began using technology on their plasma products to prevent the spread of diseases. But the lawsuit alleged that the companies continued shipping older stocks of the infected blood product abroad.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. / E-mail Jim Zamora at

jzamora@sfchronicle.com.


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