Several hemophiliacs on Tuesday filed suit against Bayer Corp. and other companies, claiming that they knowingly sold blood products contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C. The suit, filed in a San Francisco federal court, seeks class-action status on behalf of thousands of hemophiliacs from outside the United States. The plaintiffs allege that the companies conspired to sell blood-clotting products, called Factor VIII Concentrate, that were manufactured using blood from high-risk donors and continued distributing them abroad in 1984 and 1985, even after they stopped selling them in the United States because of the known risk of HIV and hepatitis transmission. Monday's suit was filed on behalf of foreigners who received the drug, according to Robert Nelson of Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein, which represents the plaintiffs.
Early in the AIDS epidemic, the medicine was commonly made using mingled plasma collected from 10,000 or more donors. Because at the time there was not yet a screening test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, thousands of hemophiliacs were infected by tainted Factor VIII Concentrate. But the suit alleges there were precautions Bayer and its subsidiary, Cutter Biological, could have taken, like screening donors or using volunteers, but didn't. The company also continued in the mid 1980s to sell an older version of Factor VIII Concentrate overseas that carried a high risk for HIV infection even though a safer, heat-treated version was available in the United States. "I don't want to speculate as to why they did what they did," Nelson said. "All I know is, they didn't use the techniques that were widely known in the scientific community and went about business as usual as if there wasn't an epidemic in the hemophiliac and gay communities."
Bayer declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, saying it had not yet received the relevant documents.