Novartis sued by bird flu guinea pig
Ten years ago Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis carried out clinical trials for a bird flu vaccine on homeless people in Poland. One man, who says they were told they were being tested for a conventional flu vaccine, is now suing the Basel-based company.
When the H5N1 virus broke out among birds in Europe in 2005, scientists feared it could be transmitted from human to human and cause a pandemic. The pharmaceutical industry across Europe rushed to develop a vaccine.
In 2007, Novartis tested a vaccine in a clinic in the Polish city of Grudziadz. The subjects – homeless and poor people – were reportedly paid around CHF2 ($2) to be tested on what they thought was a vaccine for normal flu.
Although no deaths have been directly proved as a result of the Novartis trial, the director of a homeless centre in Grudziadz told a Polish paper that in 2007 there were 21 deaths in the centre, compared with the average of about eight.
Now, one of the subjects, Grzegorz S., has launched a civil suit against Novartis.
“No one told us it was a test for a new drug. The whole time they said it was a completely normal vaccine for the normal flu,” he told 10vor10, a news programme on Swiss public television, SRF, on Wednesday.
The arbitration process took place in Basel at the beginning of July but no agreement was reached, Grzegorz S.’s lawyer told 10vor10.
Grzegorz S.’s is now suing Novartis for CHF50,000 in compensation and at least CHF50,000 of the profits generated by the vaccine.
The lawyer said Novartis was clearly liable. “The sponsor of the tests – that is, whoever arranges them and receives the profits – must be responsible for the actions of their auxiliaries,” he said.
Novartis, which had engaged a company based in Germany and Poland to carry out the trials, told 10vor10 it was “committed to adhering to the highest standards at all times and demanded the same from all external partners with whom it collaborated”.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/ts