Nigerian government lawyers added a tougher fraud
charge in their $7 billion civil lawsuit against drug maker Pfizer
The government has accused Pfizer of taking advantage of a 1996
meningitis epidemic to test an experimental drug without
authorization or full understanding of the families involved --
allegedly contributing to the deaths of some of the children and
sickening others. Pfizer denies wrongdoing.
Government lawyer Babatunde Irukera said lawyers recently discovered
material that suggested Pfizer committed fraud by bypassing company
rules on obtaining consent from families. Based on that, they
withdrew their original suit Friday and hours later filed a new one.
He said the new suit also clarifies some of the government's
"Some of the materials we needed to establish that Pfizer was
fraudulent only came out after we filed the suit," he said. Irukera
said the earlier suit only levied a softer charge of "fraudulent
Pfizer's lawyers were not immediately available for comment.
The civil case is in addition to a federal criminal case and
separate from civil and criminal cases launched at the state level
in the northern state of Kano. All the cases stem from the same
mid-1990s drug study in Kano's main city, also called Kano.
Pfizer treated 100 meningitis-infected children with an experimental
antibiotic, Trovan. Another 100 children, who were control patients
in the study, received an approved antibiotic, ceftriaxone -- but
the dose was lower than recommended, the families' lawyers alleged.
Eleven children died -- five of those on Trovan and six in the
control group, while others suffered physical disabilities and brain
damage. Pfizer has always insisted its records show 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. Meningitis survivors sometimes
sustain brain damage or other complications from the disease.
Authorities in Kano state have blamed the Pfizer controversy for
widespread suspicion of government public-health policies,
particularly the global effort to vaccinate children against polio.
Islamic leaders in largely Muslim Kano had seized on the Pfizer
controversy as evidence of a U.S.-led conspiracy. Rumors that polio
vaccines spread AIDS or infertility spurred Kano and another heavily
Muslim state, Zamfara, to boycott a polio vaccination campaign four
Vaccination programs restarted in Nigeria in 2004, after an 11-month
boycott. But the delay set back global eradication. The boycott was
blamed for causing an outbreak that spread the disease across Africa
and into the Middle East.