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Bayer Ruled Not Liable in $560M Drug Suit

March 18, 2003

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) _ A jury Tuesday cleared Bayer Corp. of any liability in a $560 million lawsuit that accused the drug giant of ignoring reports that linked the anti-cholesterol drug Baycol to deaths.

The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 days before returning the verdict. It was the first of about 8,000 cases against Bayer to go to trial.

The lawsuit was brought by Hollis Haltom, an 82-year-old engineer who said a muscle-wasting disease caused by Baycol severely weakened his legs.

His lawyers had produced e-mails and internal documents to argue that the pharmaceutical giant failed to adequately warn doctors about the possible side effects of the drug before it was pulled off the market.

Bayer acknowledged the link between the drug and rhabdomyolysis, which can clog the kidneys with disintegrating muscle tissue and cause them to fail, but said it acted responsibly by withdrawing the drug in August 2001.

The Food and Drug Administration linked Baycol to at least 52 deaths worldwide, including 31 in the United States.

The lawsuit painted Bayer as a company overly eager to jump into the lucrative U.S. market for the cholesterol-fighting drugs. About 8 million Americans use them to lower their risk of heart attacks.

Plaintiff attorney Mikal Watts showed the jury Bayer e-mails, memos, and other internal company documents he said suggested the company disregarded disturbing research on the Baycol.

But Philip Beck, the attorney for Bayer, had argued the company vigorously warned marketers and physicians before pulling the drug.

Beck also said Haltom was blaming unrelated diseases on the drug. A Bayer physician found Haltom also suffered from diabetes and vascular problems, both of which could cause lasting muscle problems, he said.

``What the uncontested evidence showed was that Mr. Haltom had fully recovered, but then took a turn for the worse for reasons unrelated to Baycol,″ Beck said. ``You know what, things weren’t so rosy.″

Baycol won FDA approval in 1997 and became the fastest-growing drug in Bayer’s history. By the time it was pulled, it was Bayer’s No. 3 seller, expected to earn some $720 million that year with 6 million patients worldwide, including 700,000 in the United States.

The pharmaceutical giant has paid $125 million to settle about 450 cases.

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