Bayer Division Sold Hemophilia Drug With HIV Risk to Asia, Latin America in 1980s
Cutter Biological, a division of pharmaceutical company Bayer, in the mid-1980s reportedly sold millions of dollars worth of a blood-clotting medicine that had a high risk for transmitting HIV to treat hemophiliacs in Asia and Latin America, while it sold a new, safer product in the United States and other Western countries, according to internal company documents, the New York Times reports (Bogdanich/Koli, New York Times, 5/22). The product, called Factor VIII concentrate, helped stop potentially fatal bleeding in people with hemophilia. In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, the company used pooled plasma donations from about 10,000 people to make the medicine. However, because there was not yet a test for HIV, thousands of hemophiliacs became infected through the use of Factor VIII. Cutter introduced the safer, heat-treated version of the drug in February 1984; however, the company continued to sell the old medicine abroad and continued to produce the older version for several months after it began selling the new product (McHugh, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/23). Now, the "precise human toll of these marketing decisions" is hard to document, "if not impossible," the Times reports. In a statement, Bayer officials said that Cutter sold the old version because some patients questioned the new drug's efficacy and some countries were slow to approve the new formula. "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 statement said. But Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen's Health Research Group, said, "These are the most incriminating internal pharmaceutical industry documents I have ever seen" (New York Times, 5/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.