Drug manufacturers might sue over Pill scare

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The manufacturers of the seven brands of contraceptive Pill at the centre of the Government's health scare are considering taking legal action over the handling of last week's warning.

Organon, manufacturer of Marvelon and Mercilon, said it was concerned that the decision of the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) to warn women about alleged increased health risks appeared to have been made "with undue haste" and without adequate analysis of the data in question.

As pressure on the Government grew, there were rising expectations last night that Stephen Dorrell, the Health Secretary, would make an early statement to MPs to quell the row.

The Government's warning that taking the seven brands of Pill could double the risk of a blood clot was based on three unpublished studies, the principal one being led by Professor Walter Spitzer of McGill University, Montreal. Organon said in a statement: "Professor Spitzer's comments that the ... interpretation of his data was incorrect confirms our belief that the CSM has acted prematurely. Organon Laboratories has taken legal advice and ... is currently reviewing its legal position." A spokesman for Wyeth, the US-based manufacturer of Minulet and Tri-Minulet, said yesterday that legal action "was certainly a matter for consideration when we receive the information requested from the Secretary of State".

This was reiterated by Schering HC, makers of Femodene, Femodene ED and Triadene, which said it was examining the impact of the warning and "assessing its position".

According to some experts the pharmaceutical companies may be anticipating potential legal action against themselves. Another motive for them to take legal action could be the effect the warning has on share prices.

Karen Woolfson, of the credit rating agency Standard and Poor's MarketScope magazine, said City analysts were shocked by the scare and "confused" by the handling of the situation. She said they would need to assess its impact on the markets.

The prospect of legal action comes as the Government braces itself for a barrage of complaints from MPs. Harriet Harman, Labour spokeswoman, will demand a Commons statement from Mr Dorrell today.

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Kenneth Calman, page 18