These are dark days for Bayer, the giant German pharmaceutical. It could be the target of thousands of class-action lawsuits – and it may have to make the pay-outs from its own deep pockets rather than from its insurers’.
The crisis revolves around its cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol (cerivastatin). It was voluntarily removed from the American market in 2001 because it was feared the drug could cause rhabdomyolysis, a muscle-wasting condition that can be fatal.
But attorneys in America have got hold of correspondence between executives at Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline from 1997. Some sections suggest that Bayer knew back then about the potential dangers of the drug.
Bayer is claiming the phrases were taken out of context, and that improper prescribing was the cause of the rhabdomyolysis cases.
But if the attorneys win the day in court, Bayer will lose insurance cover on judgments that could run into billions of dollars.
Currently there are 6,800 people, many from Germany, waiting to serve class-action lawsuits. If Bayer does successfully counter the suits from America, other countries are waiting in the wings to begin proceedings.
(Source: Time, 2003; March 10: 20).