GE Healthcare is using Great Britain’s notoriously stringent libel laws to sue a Danish physician over his remarks about its Omniscan MRI drug at a medical conference in Oxford, England.
Libel laws in the U.K. provide litigants with deep pockets a distinct advantage over individuals of more modest means. The General Electric subsidiary is using its deep pockets — to the tune of roughly $610,000 — to pursue a libel action against Henrik Thomsen, director of the department of diagnostic sciences at the University of Copenhagen, according to The Sunday Times of London.
Thomsen contends that GE Healthcare’s Omniscan, a contrast agent used in magnetic resonance imaging procedures, may be responsible for a rare kidney disorder in a small group of patients, according to the newspaper. After he and other researchers found a possible link with the contrast agent and nephrogenic systemic fibrosis — characterized by swelling, tightening skin and eventually affecting internal organs — Thomsen began speaking out, including at an academic conference two years ago in Oxford.
European regulators last month recommended that patients be checked to ensure their kidneys are healthy before being injected with the dye. Although the Food & Drug Administration has held off from making a similar stand, citing a relatively limited amount of data collected supporting those concerns, , an FDA advisory panel recommended stricter guidelines for using contrast agents like Omniscan that contain gadolinium.
GE has acknowledged an association between gadolinium and NSF, but also believes European regulators acted too quickly in proposing possible warnings for its use. Its real fight, however, has been with Thomsen, arguing his research was flawed and that remarks like those he made in Oxford are defamatory.
GE filed suit alleging Thomsen said the company was suppressing information and continuing to market Omniscan while it was aware of possible problems. It’s been somewhat cagey detailing which of Thomsen’s remarks were problematic, however, noting in its complaint that the defamation may have been “by way of innuendo.”
“I believe that the lawsuit is an attempt to silence me,” Thomsen told the Sunday Times last week. Under British law, Thomsen would have to pay GE’s legal costs in addition to damages if he loses the case. A London law firm is representing Thomsen through a no-win, no-pay agreement.
The company also is being sued in U.S. federal court by patients alleging they were harmed by contrast dyes containing gadolinium. According to court records, 20 similar cases were consolidated in February, 2008, and will be heard in the U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio in Cleveland. Since that time, another 201 plaintiffs have had their cases added to the liability suit.