BAYER says pulled cholesterol drug may be linked to 52 deaths

Monday, August 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) _ Bayer AG said Monday that its Baycol anti-cholesterol drug may be linked to 52 deaths, five days after Germany's biggest drug maker announced a voluntary recall of the drug.

The Leverkusen-based company said the deaths occurred following treatment with Baycol's active ingredient, cerivastatin. It said the chances of the drug, known as Lipobay outside the United States, ever returning to the market are ``slim.''

``If the use of this medicine has resulted in damage to health, that is something we deeply regret,'' chief executive Manfred Schneider said at a news conference Monday. ``We do everything we can to eliminate such risks,'' stressing that there is still no proof that the drug caused the deaths.

The German Health Ministry, meanwhile, said it ordered a report from regulators into whether the drug should have been recalled earlier. The findings are to be presented Thursday.

Bayer's stock dropped by 20 percent in three days after it announced the recall because of possible links to deaths. Schneider pledged to overhaul his pharmaceuticals strategy, sparking speculation it will seek a joint venture or sell the unit.

``We will now examine what strategy we adopt, what new targets we set ourselves, and how we achieve them _ on our own or in partnerships,'' he said.

Schneider said that two rival companies had approached Bayer about a partnership, but he didn't identify the companies or indicate what they proposed. The news helped Bayer's stock recover in early afternoon trading Monday.

Bayer plans to cut 5,000 jobs across the company and close 15 polymers plants by 2005 under a plan to save $1.3 billion and offset mounting problems at the drug unit and the impact of the slowing world economy. That's even before possible job cuts as a result of the withdrawal of Baycol.

On Thursday, it announced a 45 percent drop in second-quarter operating profit and warned full-year operating profit before one-time items would fall ``significantly'' below its already lowered target of $2.7 billion.