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A Corpus Christi, Texas, jury cleared Bayer Corp. of liability Tuesday in a $560 million lawsuit that accused the pharmaceutical giant of ignoring research linking the cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol to dozens of deaths. The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 days before returning the verdict. It was the first of about 8,000 cases against Bayer to go to trial. “The verdict validates Bayer’s assertion that the company acted responsibly in the development, marketing and voluntary withdrawal of Baycol,” Bayer said in a statement. The lawsuit was brought by Hollis Haltom, an 82-year-old engineer who said a muscle-wasting disease caused by Baycol severely weakened his legs. His lawyers had produced e-mails and internal documents to argue that Bayer didn’t adequately warn doctors about the possible side effects of the drug before it was pulled off the market. “We’re not happy about it,” the plaintiff’s daughter, Holly Haltom, said after the verdict. “My heart goes out to all the others, especially victims who died.” Plaintiffs’ attorney Mikal Watts said the Haltoms were weighing an appeal. Bayer, the Pittsburgh-based U.S. subsidiary of German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, had acknowledged the link between the drug and a side effect called rhabdomyolysis — a rare but life-threatening condition in which muscle cells are destroyed. In severe cases, the condition can lead to kidney failure. The Food and Drug Administration linked Baycol to at least 52 deaths worldwide, including 31 in the United States. The lawsuit had painted Bayer as a company overly eager to jump into the lucrative U.S. market for the cholesterol-fighting drugs known as statins. About 8 million Americans use statins to lower their risk of heart attacks. Watts showed the jury Bayer e-mails, memos and other internal company documents he said suggested the company disregarded disturbing research on Baycol. But Bayer attorney Philip Beck had argued the company vigorously warned marketers and physicians before recalling the drug. He said Tuesday’s verdict was “a vindication of our client.” Baycol won FDA approval in 1997 and became the fastest-growing drug in Bayer’s history. By the time it was pulled, it was Bayer’s No. 3 seller, expected to earn some $720 million that year with 6 million patients worldwide, including 700,000 in the United States. The pharmaceutical company has paid $125 million to settle about 450 cases, but thousands remain. Opening statements were made Tuesday in a Mississippi case, and a judge was deciding whether to grant class action status to a lawsuit in Minnesota. Beck said the company had no plans to change its strategy of seeking out-of-court settlements. “We hope that some plaintiffs’ lawyers will take notice of the verdict and be more amenable to negotiating these agreements,” he said. Bayer shares leapt on the New York Stock Exchange after the verdict, closing at $15.40, up $4.16, or 37 percent. Stock prices had plunged about one-quarter after the trial opened Feb. 18. Analyst Jon Fisher with Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati called the verdict “a definite positive surprise” for shareholders. “The big concern for Bayer has been that they don’t have enough insurance to cover all the lawsuits.” Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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