A Swiss appeals court has knocked back an attempt by contraceptive maker Bayer (BAYRY) to chill critics of its birth control pill Yaz. There have been at least eight recent attempts to silence critics of healthcare businesses through legal action, often in Europe where laws don't always guarantee freedom of speech.
Swiss Television reported last year that there were about 190 deaths associated with Yaz and Yasmin in the FDA's adverse events database. The database is a grab bag of confirmed and unconfirmed drug reports and thus not always an accurate indicator of a drug's problems. Nonetheless, it's where researchers start when looking into problems caused by drugs once they're on the market.
Bayer took Swiss TV to court, alleging the report was "manipulative" and that it breached the broadcaster's "statutory requirement of factual accuracy." Bayer lost a ruling in a lower court and earlier this month lost an appeal to a Swiss federal court. The court said that although the report contained critical viewpoints they were were correctly identified as such.
The litigation is part of a wave of actions brought by pharmaceutical companies who don't want to hear scientists, journalists or activists saying bad things about their products. Other examples include:
- GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) used an academic hit man to make phone calls to researchers working on papers critical of its diabetes drug Avandia. Dr. Tachi Yamada, a top R&D executive at GSK, would call researchers to tell them that it was "not [in] anyone's best interest" for such research to be done.
- The Japanese company Astellas lost a case against the French medical journal Prescrire after the journal described its Protopic eczma cream as "not acceptable" and illustrated its verdict with a cartoon of a man in a silly hat giving a pill the boot.
- URL Pharma in the U.S. wrote legal letters to doctors who had posted comments about its gout drug Colcrys on a bulletin board, warning them of the "potential risks and liability" of using competing versions of its drug.
- Apotex sued a Canadian academic for alleged breach of a nondisparagement agreement they had after she criticized Ferriprox, its drug for a rare blood disorder.
- Other drug industry organizations that have sued their critics include GE Healthcare, NMT Medical, the vitamin entrepreneur Matthias Rath and the British Chiropractic Association.
In European libel cases, the defendant is frequently liable until proven not so -- the opposite of the law in the U.S. Although truth is a complete defense, cases can be expensive and juries can be fickle, and critics often buckle before trial. Recently, European judges appear to have realized that their courts have been used by "libel tourists" who don't really have legitimate complaints against their critics. They just don't want to be criticized.
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