Pfizer faces criminal charges over drug test fiasco
THE Federal Government yesterday filed fresh charges against Pfizer International Incorporated (PII), accusing seven of the company’s top officials of fraud and criminal breach of trust of its controversial drug test, popularly known as Trovan Clinical Trials, it carried out on Nigerian citizens in Kano in 1996, which had fatal results.
The charges were filed at a Federal High Court in Abuja against Pfizer and its top employees namely Isa Dutse, Scott Hopkins, Debra Williams, Mike Dunne, Samuel Ohuabunwa, Robert Buhl and William Steere. They are accused of alleged complicity in the drug trial, which resulted in the death of over 200 meningitis patients.
In 1996, Steere was the Chief Executive Officer of PII; Ohuanbunwa, Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian subsidiary; Dutse was a medical doctor and Principal Investigator while Hopkins, Dunne and Williams were medical doctors employed by the organisation.
Last week, the government withdrew a civil action it had instituted on June 4, 2007 against Pfizer, wherein it asked the court to order the company to pay seven billion dollars as compensation to the victims of the Trovan Test.
Government’s lawyer, Babatunde Irukera, explained that the withdrawal of the civil suit against the firm was to enable it formally file a criminal charge against it and its officials who allegedly breached the nation’s health laws by testing the efficacy of allegedly unregistered drugs on citizens in Kano State.
When the new case made out by the Federal Government was called up yesterday, Pfizer had no legal representation. Irukera, however, urged the court to grant a long adjournment to avail him time to tighten his case against the accused persons.
The trial Judge, Justice Anwuri Chikere obliged him and adjourned the matter till October 29, 2007.
Outside the courtroom, the government counsel told reporters that the trial would only go on when the accused persons had been arrested.
“We have filed a criminal charge against them and it follows that they would be arrested, arraigned and tried”.
According to government, the accused persons sometime in April 1996 possessed and administered Trovafloxacin, which is “dangerous to human health and life” when they knew that it was untested and unregistered by the country’s regulatory agency NAFDAC.
For possessing the drug, the accused persons allegedly offended section 516 of the Criminal Code Act. And, for administering it without being duly registered to do so under the Medical and Dental Practitioners (MDP) Act, they breached section 17 of the MDP Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 1990.
Similarly, they were charged with “knowingly importing into Nigeria an untested and unregistered drug, an offence under the National Drug Formulary and Essential Drugs List Act.
The Pfizer executives were also accused of conducting a clinical trial without obtaining valid due certificate and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 5 (1) (a) and punishable under section 6 of the Food, Drug and Related Products (Registration etc) Act.
They were also charged with forging letters purporting to be approvals to carry out the clinical trial contrary to section 468 of the Criminal Code.
The companies and their executives were accused of bribing Dr. Isa Dutse of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital with $20,000.00 to procure a forged and backdated letter of approval for the clinical trial.
In the civil suit, which was dropped last week and refiled, the government prayed the court to, among others, compel Pfizer to make the following payments: $500 million being the total sum expended by it in providing treatment, compensation and support for the victims of the drug test and their families; $450 million being the total sum it incurred in its public enlightenment efforts to erase the societal misgivings and prejudices that arose out of the Kano Trovan Test conducted by the 1st Defendant (Pfizer) and $1 billion being the cost of the government’s sponsored health programmes and initiatives, which have failed, following the societal misgivings and prejudices arising from the Kano Trovan Test.
From Lemmy Ughegbe,
Nigerian Guardian Newspapers, Abuja