A division of Bayer sold millions of dollars worth of a medicine that carried a high risk of spreading HIV to hemophiliac customers in Latin America and Asia, while selling a new, safer product in the European and US markets, reported the New York Times. Germany-based Cutter Biological sold the blood-clotting medicine, called Factor VIII concentrate, to Asia and Latin America for more than a year after introducing a new heat-treated version to kill HIV in February 1984, according to documents obtained by the newspaper.
Early in the AIDS epidemic, the drug was made with plasma from 10,000 or more donors. However, the lack of a screening test for HIV meant that even a few HIV-positive donors could taint a large pool of plasma recipients. As a result, thousands of hemophiliacs acquired AIDS. Bayer and three other companies that made the concentrate have paid about $600 million to settle more than 15 years of lawsuits accusing them of manufacturing a dangerous product.
Although Bayer officials declined to be interviewed, it did answer written questions for Cutter and its then-president, Jack Ryan. In selling the medicine overseas, Cutter "behaved responsibly, ethically and humanely," said Bayer. Cutter continued to sell the older, untreated version because some countries stalled in approving the new version's sale, and some customers doubted the effectiveness of the newer drug.
The Times said Cutter shipped more than 100,000 vials of unheated concentrate -- worth more than $4 million -- after it began selling the safer medicine. Cutter's desire to deplete stocks of the older product and fixed-price contracts were partly responsible for the continued sales, the newspaper said. After February 1984, Cutter sold the older medicine in Argentina, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
In March 1983 CDC warned that blood products appeared responsible for AIDS among hemophiliacs. Three months later, distributors in nearly two dozen nations received a letter from Cutter saying that AIDS was "the center of irrational response in many countries."
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