Nigerian state agrees to $75M Pfizer settlement

The Nigerian state leading a multibillion dollar lawsuit against Pfizer over a 1996 meningitis drug study said it agreed Thursday to settle the case for $75 million.

Kano State is leading a series of lawsuits against Pfizer seeking damages over allegations that the study resulted in brain damage, paralysis or slurred speech in many children.

Eleven children died during the test, which was performed during an outbreak of the disease, but the governments and Pfizer disagree about whether the deaths were caused by the tests or by meningitis itself.

Kano State spokesman Suleyau Sule said no final settlement was signed but that state officials led by the governor had agreed at a London meeting with company representatives to end the legal action.

Sule said $35 million would be earmarked for victims in the case, with $30 million to be dedicated to improving health care in the northern Nigerian state.

The remainder will be used to defray litigation costs. The state along with the federal government had originally sought about $7 billion.

Kano State Attorney General Aliyu Umar told The Associated Press in a telephone call from London that he hoped for a final deal in June. Government lawyers earlier indicated they would likely accept a settlement of around $75 million, if it was offered by the company.

Pfizer said in a statement that it continued to make “good progress” in talks with the government, but didn’t say when a final agreement might be reached and had no comment on any settlement figure.

It said two matters remained to be resolved: How to ensure settlement funds reached their intended victims and that the funds disbursement was done with full accountability.

Meningitis is endemic in Nigeria, where around 1,000 people have died of the disease this year alone, according to the World Health Organization.

In the study, Pfizer treated 100 meningitis-infected children with an experimental antibiotic called Trovan. An additional 100 children, who were control patients in the study, received an approved antibiotic, the chemical compound ceftriaxone ? but the dose was lower than recommended, the family attorneys allege.

Pfizer has insisted its records demonstrate that none of the deaths was linked to Trovan or substandard treatment, noting the study showed a better survival rate for the patients on Trovan than those on the standard drug, and that mental damage and other serious disabilities are known aftereffects of meningitis.

Pfizer denies all charges and says its scientists acted lawfully and in keeping with professional standards while testing the drug.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.