Bayer and Armour Pharmaceuticals knew their products were tainted with HIV and hepatitis C, but sold them anyway

Pharma companies including Bayer and Revlon Healthcare knowingly sold blood products contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C to the British National Health Service, according to a Daily Telegraph investigation. The revelations come as part of a national inquiry into thousands of cases of hemophiliacs who contracted HIV and hepatitis C from infected blood products in the 1970 and 1980s.

Internal documents from Bayer and Revlon Healthcare’s Armour Pharmaceuticals obtained by the Telegraph show that the companies knew in the early 1980s their Factor VIII products were contaminated—but still sold them anyway.

In the case of Bayer, an internal marketing plan in 1985 suggested dumping their HIV-tainted products in Asia, because “AIDS has not become a major issue in Asia.” The company outlined how it would sell the products in countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Argentina.

Bayer believed sales of $400,000 were at risk.

Similarly, when Armour discovered HIV in their heat-treated factor VIII product, which was supposed to be sterile, they referred to the discovery simply as a “marketing problem.”

“The issue is not one of regulation, but rather of marketing,” said Dr Mike Rodell, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at Revlon Healthcare. He believed the company could lose $6 million in sales.

Armour and Dr Rodell subsequently hid these findings from the US FDA.

Even when confronted with direct evidence that Armour’s factor VIII was transmitting HIV to patients, the company denied it had ever discovered HIV in its product. The company then delayed reporting its findings to the British Department of Health. The company’s delay meant that more people, including children, were infected with HIV before the product was withdrawn from the British market.

More than 1,250 people contracted HIV in the UK from contaminated factor VIII products, and around 5,000 more contracted hepatitis C.

The Infected Blood Inquiry will report its findings on 20 May, and is expected to be extremely critical of factor VIII manufacturers. Nobody has ever been prosecuted in the UK for their role in the manufacture or sale of contaminated blood products.

A former managing director of Armour told the Inquiry that the decision to withhold news about contamination of factor VIII products was in order to stop patients from panicking.

“The concern was that this was putting the frighteners into patients without the full facts being available,” Christopher Bishop told the Inquiry.

In response to the Telegraph story, a spokesman for Bayer said it is cooperating fully with the Infected Blood Inquiry and it would be inappropriate to comment before the final report is issued. 

“Bayer is truly sorry that this tragic situation occurred and that therapies that were developed by Bayer Group companies, and were prescribed by doctors to save and improve lives, in fact, ended up causing so much suffering to so many.”

CSL Behring, which acquired Armour’s manufacturing facilities in 2004, refused to comment on the “historical activities of Armour Pharmaceuticals.”

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