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Pfizer, Nigerians Settle Trovan Lawsuit

Pfizer, Nigerians settle Trovan lawsuit [New Haven Register, Conn.]

From New Haven Register (CT) (February 23, 2011)

Feb. 23--WEST HAVEN -- More than a decade after attorney Richard Altschuler and his African legal colleagues began fighting in court on behalf of victims of an experimental drug, Altschuler's group and Pfizer Inc. have reached a settlement to compensate those victims.

Altschuler and his Nigerian co-counsels represent 192 Nigerians who suffered the effects of the antibiotic, Trovan, or are related to those who died after taking it.

According to Altschuler's $2 billion lawsuit, the 1996 drug trials led to the deaths of 11 children and left many others blind, paralyzed or brain-damaged. Pfizer denied these allegations, saying Trovan helped save children's lives during an outbreak of meningitis. But in 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration raised concerns about Trovan, after reports of liver failure and deaths. Its use was restricted; Pfizer stopped manufacturing the drug in 2003.

The terms of the settlement prevent Altschuler from commenting extensively or answering questions. But he is permitted to state: "After 12 years of litigation in the federal and state courts of Connecticut as well as further litigation in Nigeria, the plaintiffs' lawyers have kept our promise to our clients that we would bring justice and peace to them and their families."

The joint statement from both sides of the dispute, released on a Pfizer letterhead, said: "We are pleased to announce that we have reached a final agreement to settle the Trovan cases pending in the United States and Nigeria. The parties agree that settlement is in the best interests of all involved.

"Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the plaintiffs will join the ongoing Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund process, which is being managed by an independent board of trustees in Kano, Nigeria," the statement added.

The joint statement concluded that the agreement will "allow for just compensation for participants in the study and their families."

Although financial terms of the settlement were not made public, the total going to the victims and families is almost certainly more than a proposed settlement in 2009, which would have given $35 million to them.

Altschuler has spent countless hours in overseas conference calls with his legal counterparts in Nigeria who were representing the victims: Etigwe Uwa, Kunle Ishola and Olinka Olajuwon.

Through the years, the team won court rulings, including Altschuler's win in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. It expanded jurisdiction of a federal law holding U.S. companies accountable for wrongful acts overseas.

Altschuler sued Pfizer in U.S. District Court in Connecticut because he believed Pfizer officials came up with the Nigerian field test idea at the corporation's development offices in Groton and New London.

Altschuler's lawsuit included detailed allegations against Pfizer's methods by one of its former researchers, Dr. Juan Walterspiel, who was also a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Medicine in 1994.

Walterspiel, who did not go to Nigeria to help with the drug trial, later warned Pfizer's top executives that the study was "in violation of ethical rules for the conduct of medical experiments in humans."

Walterspiel allegedly warned Pfizer officials that their methods "could result in life-threatening illnesses and deaths to the children." And he alleged Pfizer representatives failed to obtain proper informed consent by the children's parents and did not provide adequate follow-up care.

Pfizer spokesmen denied Walterspiel's charges. According to media reports, he was fired the day after he wrote his letter.

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Posted: February 2011

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