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Nigeria lawyer: Clients awaiting news from Pfizer

Thu, 04/02/2009 - 5:28am
EDWARD HARRIS Associated Press Writer ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A lawyer representing Nigeria in multibillion dollar lawsuits against Pfizer said Wednesday that his clients would seriously consider a US$75 million settlement by the US-based drug giant, but that no offer had yet been made by the company. Nigeria alleges that Pfizer conducted illegal meningitis-drug experiments, resulting in deaths, brain damage, paralysis and slurred speech in many of the children involved in the 1996 study. Pfizer denies the charge and says its scientists acted lawfully and in keeping with professional standards while testing the drug, Trovan. Babatunde Irukera, a lawyer representing both Nigeria's federal government and northern Kano State in the negotiations, told The Associated Press that he had indications the company had settled on a figure near US$75 million, and that his clients would look favorably on a such an offer if it was made official by the company. Pfizer said no had agreement had yet been struck. It didn't address the US$75 million figure. "Several critical issues remain unresolved regarding key procedures to prevent any misappropriation of funds," company spokesman Chris Loder said in a statement. "The parties must also agree on specific health initiatives to ensure the benefits of the settlement are transparent and realized. Pfizer's intention is to bring the Trovan matter to a fair and final resolution and we are committed to remaining at the negotiating table until that is accomplished." Both sides had said in recent weeks that a settlement was close, but no details were given. A case launched by Nigeria's federal government is seeking several billion dollars in damages, while a separate case stemming from the same study, brought by Kano state where the study took place seeks US$2 billion. Pfizer officials from the time of the study have also been subjected to criminal charges in Nigeria. A former Nigerian military ruler, Yakubu Gowon, was helping lead negotiations for Nigeria. Earlier this year, a New York-based court ruled that Nigerian families can sue Pfizer in U.S. courts, overturning rulings by a lower court judge who had tossed out the lawsuits in litigation that began in 2001. It was unclear if any settlement reached in Nigeria would include that legal challenge. Pfizer treated 100 meningitis-infected children with an experimental antibiotic called Trovan. Another 100 children, who were control patients in the study, received an approved antibiotic, ceftriaxone — but the dose was lower than recommended, the family attorneys allege. As many as 11 children in the study died, and others suffered physical disabilities and brain damage. Pfizer has insisted its records show that none of the deaths was linked to Trovan or substandard treatment, noting that the study showed a better survival rate for the patients on Trovan than those on the standard drug, and that mental damage and other serious disabilities are known aftereffects of meningitis. Authorities in Kano state have blamed the Pfizer affair for widespread suspicion of government public health policies and for helping fuel a drive by local Islamic leaders that briefly halted polio vaccination efforts in northern Nigeria.

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