US companies claimed Aids proposals were ‘too expensive’, blood inquiry told

·3-min read

Sceptical US pharmaceutical companies turned an Aids meeting into a “forum for individual agendas and turf protection”, implying proposals were “too expensive”, the infected blood inquiry has been told.

The inquiry heard how Dr Donald Francis slammed his fist in frustration at the public meeting in 1983 before demanding to know how many more Aids cases were needed before action would be taken.

The infected blood inquiry is being held to examine how patients received contaminated blood products leading to thousands contracting HIV, Aids and/or hepatitis in the 1970s and 1980s.

About 2,400 people died in what has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

The UK failed to meet the demand of patients, particularly those with the blood-clotting condition haemophilia. A large number of the infected products were imported from overseas, including the US.

The inquiry heard junior counsel Matthew Hill present pharmaceutical companies’ knowledge of risk as Aids emerged in the US.

In December 1982 leading expert Dr Bruce Evatt warned that the epidemic was doubling in size every six months. His alert followed the death from Aids of a San Francisco toddler who had had a blood transfusion at birth, the inquiry heard.

Working for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr Evatt wrote that the “evidence could no longer be ignored” and “urgent changes in blood policy were needed”.

On January 4 1983 a public meeting to arrive at a “meaningful recommendation for action” to reduce the rapidly increasing number of Aids cases was attended by 200 representatives of health bodies.

At the convention, leading experts of the CDC suggested that high-risk groups be excluded from the blood donor pool and they proposed a surrogate laboratory test to eliminate infected donors.

However, sceptics criticised the evidence that Aids was a blood-borne virus and representatives of blood banks and the plasma industry objected “primarily because it would be too expensive”.

The pharmaceutical company Cutter estimated that the testing would cost “at least 100 million dollars per year”.

Ultimately, the pivotal meeting endorsed none of the measures recommended.

In an article titled The Tragic History Of Aids In The Haemophilia Population, Dr Evatt wrote: “Unfortunately, January 4 1983 became possibly the most discouraging and frustrating day of the epidemic.

“Rather than a rational discussion of the data, the meeting quickly became a forum to advance individual agendas and turf protection.”

At the “unpleasant” meeting, Dr Francis slammed his fist down on the table in frustration demanding to know how many Aids cases there needed to be before action would be taken.

Following the meeting, Dr John Hink of pharmaceutical company Cutter, wrote: “Difficulties in communication and political power struggles made progress towards these objectives difficult. The self-serving comments of blood bankers and lack of data to provide legitimacy to many proposals resulted in an overall stalemate.”

In the inquiry, counsel Mr Hill added: “In January 1983 there was a gulf between steps that the blood industry were willing to take and those leading figures within the CDC considered necessary.”

After the “controversial” meeting, the CDC came under fire as some alleged the meeting was a “marketing approach” during federal funding cuts in the battle for their 15 million dollar laboratory, according to a 1995 report from the Institute of Medicine.

High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff heard how pharmaceutical company Alpha took immediate action implementing screening in the donor process.

In three weeks, 308 homosexual men voluntarily excluded themselves. The pharmaceutical company stated that the “loss of these donors was more than offset for the protection of our patients”.

The inquiry continues.

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