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Environment

Suits Target Bayer Schering

Court Case: Claimants say 1970s-era pregnancy test drug caused birth defects

by Sarah Everts
June 14, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 24

Bayer Schering Pharma is facing lawsuits in German courts regarding a pregnancy test drug called Duogynon. Claimants allege that the drug, a mixture of progesterone and an estrogen derivative, caused birth defects in babies born in the 1970s to women who took it. The test was taken off the German and U.K. markets in 1980.

The new suits come some 30 years after parents of children with birth defects lost several cases against Schering, the German company that marketed the drug. Schering is now part of Bayer Schering Pharma. At the time, reports both supporting and questioning connections between the pregnancy test and birth defects were published in leading journals such as Nature.

André Sommer, a 34-year-old schoolteacher in Germany, recently told Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, that the Duogynon his mother took caused his malformed genitalia and misplaced bladder. Sommer is one of the first of about 30 individuals that Jörg Heynemann, a Berlin-based medical malpractice lawyer, aims to represent in lawsuits against Bayer Schering Pharma. In Germany, class action suits are not allowed, so people who wish to sue a company must do so individually.

Heynemann estimates that 1,000 people say Duogynon or Primodos, a similar product marketed in the U.K., caused birth defects such as malformed genitalia, heart defects, and spina bifida. “This is the forgotten thalidomide,” Heynemann says.

The lawsuit is requesting that Bayer Schering Pharma release toxicological data about Duogynon that has not yet been made public. Heynemann says his eventual aim is to secure financial compensation for his clients.

“We don’t see a basis for the request” to release the toxicological data, says Oliver Renner, a Bayer Schering Pharma spokesman. In a written statement, the company says there is “no causality between the product and the birth defects. The topic has been fully analyzed in the past from a scientific as well as a jurisdictional point of view.”

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