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Nigeria extends Pfizer suit to target Neimeth

ABUJA, Oct 22 (Reuters) - A Nigerian court on Monday allowed the federal government to extend a $6.5 billion lawsuit against U.S.-based pharmaceuticals firm Pfizer PFE.N to target Nigerian drug maker Neimeth NEIM.LG as well.

The federal government and the northern state of Kano are both suing Pfizer over the 1996 trial of Trovan, a new drug that was tested on children during a meningitis epidemic.

Nigeria alleges that Pfizer was responsible for the deaths of 11 children and permanent health problems for dozens of the 200 children involved in the Trovan trial. Neimeth was under Pfizer’s control at the time of the epidemic.

Pfizer remains the first defendant, and also faces criminal charges brought by the federal and state governments, as well as a $2 billion compensation claim from the Kano state government.

“I hereby grant the order for the plaintiff to amend his writ of summons,” judge Babs Kuewumi said, adjourning the case to Dec. 4.

Pfizer says Trovan saved lives and the alleged victims were affected by meningitis, not Trovan.

“Pfizer stands by the results of the 1996 Trovan clinical trial and will vigorously defend it in court,” spokesman Chris Loder said.

Trovan had been tested on 5,000 people before it was used in Nigeria. It was licensed by the United States Food and Drug Administration for use on adults a few months after the Kano trial.

Trovan briefly became one of Pfizer’s top-selling drugs, with 300,000 prescriptions per month in the United States, but authorities imposed strict curbs on its use three years later when it was found to cause serious liver injuries in some patients.

The Nigerian lawsuit was first filed in the United States, but was struck out in 2005 by a judge who said it should be heard in Nigeria.

The Kano state government’s civil suit against Pfizer will open on Dec. 5, while the criminal case comes up on Nov. 6.

The attorney general of Kano state, Aliyu Umar, has said he will lead a delegation to the United States on Nov. 17 to explore an out-of-court settlement with Pfizer.