Legal aid granted in UK for deformities case

A British man seeking compensation for birth defects has won legal aid to begin a possible court case against the maker of a pregnancy testing drug.

Hundreds of people in Britain have claimed they were harmed because their mothers were given the drug Primodos, made by a company which is now part of Bayer AG.

Peter Todd, a lawyer specializing in vaccine and drug injuries, said Thursday that he had been informed this week that a limited amount of aid had been approved by the Legal Services Commission.

"We applied for legal aid so we could review the case and whether there was now a reasonable prospect of success," Todd said in an email.

The aid will pay for identify a suitable expert to prepare a preliminary report, said Todd, who is associated with the firm of Hodge Jones & Allen in London.

Todd declined to disclose the amount of aid approved. He would have to make further applications if the case progresses.

Todd represents Karl Murphy, 38, who was born without several fingers and toes, and says his mother was given the drug.

In a search of his mother's attic, Murphy says he found a copy of a letter in which some employees of Schering, the drug manufacturer, had expressed concern about harmful effects. It was among a bundle of documents assembled by German journalists investigating the drug in the 1970s.

Bayer denies that there is any evidence associating the drug with birth defects.

People who claim to have been injured by the drug attempted to mount a case in 1982 but it failed at an early stage.

Todd's application for legal aid was initially rejected by the Legal Services Commission, but an independent appeal committee recommended that aid be given, he said.

Last year, Mike O'Brien, then a junior health minister, told the House of Commons that British regulatory agencies had received about 3,500 reports over the years of adverse reactions related to the drugs norethisterone and ethinylestradiol, components of Primodos. Three reports of adverse reaction specifically cited Primodos, O'Brien said.

In 1975, the Committee of Safety of Medicines advised that hormonal preparations, including Primodos, should not be used pregnancy testing and that a warning about a possible hazard in pregnancy should be part of all promotional literature.