Over Dead Bodies for a Profit

According to a recently published inquiry report, between 1970 and 1998, 3,000 people have died in the United Kingdom from virus-contaminated blood products. The Bayer Group was one of the largest manufacturers.

BERLIN/LONDON (own report) – According to an inquiry report published last week, contaminated blood plasma products from the Bayer Group in Germany, and others, caused the deaths of around 3,000 people. 30,000 people – mainly hemophiliacs who are dependent on blood clotting products – were infected with HIV or Hepatitis C. The report speaks in terms of avoidable deaths and raises serious accusations of the health system and politicians in authority. On the other hand, it refrains from criticising the pharmceutical industry. That Bayer and other companies had had detailed information about the risks of transmission, is apparent from company internal documents. In addition, for a prolonged period, they had refused to adopt virus inactivation methods to preserve their profits. When the USA and a growing number of European countries were making heat treatment of blood products a condition for certification, the companies exported their old stockpiles to Asia and Latin America. Victims are demanding an official apology. Initiatives critical of the company are demanding that the company assume a share of the compensation payments of around eleven billion euros promised by London.

3,000 Deaths

In Great Britain, in the years from 1970 to well into the 1990s, around 3,000 people died from contaminated blood plasma products, such as Koate, produced by Bayer or similar products from other companies. Over 30,000 people – the majority hemophiliacs – became infected with HIV or Hepatitis C. This is the conclusion drawn from an inquiry report recently published by former Judge Brian Langstaff.[1] “I must report that this could have largely – if not completely – been avoided,” declared Langstaff in the course of his presentation of the more than 2,500 page “Infected Blood Inaquiry.” He explicitly accuses “those who were responsible:” “the doctors, the blood banks, and several successive governments”[2] Heowever, he does not mention the pharmaceutical companies. It is left to journals, such as “The Guardian,” to speak of the “greed of the pharmaceutical companies” or speak of “corporate killing”.[3]

A “Tragic Situation”

In a recent statement, Bayer expressed its empathy with the victims. Bayer “deeply regrets this tragic situation and “that the hemophilia treatments developed by Cutter, intended to save and improve lives, ended up causing so much suffering,” announced the company based in Leverkusen.[4] The Bayer-critical “Coordination Against BAYER Dangers” does not accept this. “Bayer & Co. knowingly sold virus-contaminated blood products,” responds the initiative.[5] According to the organization, the number of deaths worldwide is in the tens of thousands.

Bayer was Aware

Cutter, Bayer’s US subsidiary, held a dominant market position in the field of coagulation products for hemophiliacs. The blood donated for its medical products was primarily obtained by members of risk groups, such as prison inmates, prostitutes, and drug addicts. The company was already aware of the incumbent risks in late 1982. “There is clear evidence indicating that AIDS (…) will be transmitted via plasma products,” internal company documents state.[6] According to one memo addressed to Company President, Jack Ryan, referred to in the “Infected Blood Inquiry’s” chapter “The knowledge of the AIDS Risk,” individual employees were asking that measures be taken,[7] For example, one employee had insisted that appropriate warnings be placed in package inserts.

Stalling and Trivializing

The management did not respond to these appeals. When a method for killing the viruses by heat treatment was discovered, the company, in collusion with other enterprises, did everything possible to delay the certification for as long as possible, fearing that it would be stuck with its stockpile of Factor VII products. In addition, Cutter was retissent about the costs of transforming its production methods. Given the fact that the Bayer subsidiary was bound to long-term supply contracts at fixed prices, this would have cut into its returns on its investments. Therefore, the company launched a large-scale disinformation campaign. “In some countries, AIDS has provoked irrational reactions” Cutter wrote in a letter to suppliers from France and 20 other countries, making reference to “baseless speculations that the syndrom could be transmitted by blood products.”[8]

Asia and Latin America as Discount Market

Beginning in the summer of 1984, Cutter was forced to accept the inevitable. A growing number of Western industrial nations were making heat processing mandatory. The manager found himself confronted with a disposal problem. “We still have a huge amount of non-heat treated stocks,” said the company management, who decided “to watch the international markets, to see if more of these products could be sold.”[9] Eureka! At the end of the year, the Bayer subsiderary had already delivered 400,000 old Factor VIII units to East Asia, 300,000 more to Argentina. Altogether, it had exported another 25 million batches worth four million US dollars, primarily to Asia and Latin America.

Bayer Profits

Not even when Hong Kong’s Department of Health summoned Cutter’*s head of sales, because the patients were increasingly applying pressure and the media was becoming aware of the issue, did the managers change their attitude. Their sole reaction was “we have provided the university doctors (…) 350 vials of the new, heat treated Koates (…) for those patients, who are complaining the loudest.”[10] In Japan the pharmaceutical company even went so far as to delay the certification of the heat treated Koate HT, to be able to sell as much of the old stockpiles as possible. An employee at Cutter expressed belated remorse to journalist Egmont R,. Koch: “I believe, I made a mistake. I believe, I could have done things better. And I believe, under the circumstances, when one sees the consequences, I am glad, that now I can talk about it.[11]

Great Britain Pays

For the time being, Bayer and the other manufacturers in Great Britain do not have to worry about consequences. Others are assuming the responsibility for the blood scandal. In the Lower House, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke of a “day of shame for the British state” and officially apologized to the victims or their bereaved families.[12] However, appeals for apologies by those affected to the companies concerned, have fallen on deaf ears. The government has even appointed Jonathan Montgomery, someone who had been a member of Bayer’s Bioethics Council until October 2023 to the commission charged with advising it on “compensation,”. The Hemophiliacs’s organizations reacted with outrage accordingly. “We recognize the concerns of many in our community about Professor Montgomery’s links with the pharmaceutical company Bayer,” notes the Hemophilia Society. “No expert with direct links to one of the companies responsible for producing contaminated blood products would ever have the confidence of the contaminated blood community.”[13]

Eleven Billion Euros in Compensation

The British state is opening the prospect of eleven billioin euros in compensations. The victims or their descendents have already received installments of €115,000 each. The “Coordination Against BAYER Dangers” is demanding that Bayer assume a portion of the payments. “The BAYER Group has literally walked over dead bodies to get to its profits. That is why it must now assume its responsibility. There is no reason why the compensation promised by the government following the inquiry report, should fall entirely on the shoulders of the British taxpayers,” says the organization.[14] Already back in 1997, those affected in the USA, were demanding payments from Bayer, Alpha, Armour, and Baxter. The settlement for the 6,200 plaintiffs cost the companies US US $500 million, from which the Leverkusen-based  company had to take on the lion’s share of US $290 million.


[1] infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk.

[2] Johannes Leithäuser: Sunak muss schon wieder „Sorry“ sagen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 22.05.2024.

[3] They made fatal decisions and shredded evidence, . the guardian.com 20.05.2024.

[4] „Plasma was called liquid gold”. theguardian.com 27.04.2024.

[5], [6] Bayer muss Verantwortung übernehmen! cbg.network.org 24.05.2024.

[7] Infected blood inquiry, Vol. 3, S. 79.

[8] Bayer muss Verantwortung übernehmen! cbg.network.org 24.05.2024.

[9], [10], [11] Egmont R. Koch: Tödlicher Ausverkauf – Wie AIDS nach Asien kam. TV-Dokumentation, WDR 2004.

[12] Johannes Leithäuser: Sunak muss schon wieder „Sorry“ sagen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 22.05.2024.

[13] haemophilia.org.uk.

[14] Bayer muss Verantwortung übernehmen! cbg.network.org 24.05.2024.