Originally created 06/19/02

Patient history to stay sealed



Allegations of chicanery flew in court Tuesday, but the judge refereed compromises that are expected to move along a civil lawsuit stemming from the actions of two convicted Medical College of Georgia researchers.

The plaintiffs in the case are Alzheimer's patients who took part in the drug studies run by the former MCG medical staff members and researchers, Drs. Richard Borison and Bruce Diamond, who are serving prison sentences linked to the theft of $10 million from the college.

The defendants are Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., Quintiles Laboratories Limited and Debra S. Brown, who worked for the doctors in recruiting people to take part in the drug studies. Only Dr. Diamond is named in the lawsuit, filed in January 2001. Parm Ed Inc., the company the doctors used to funnel millions of dollars from the pharmaceutical company to themselves instead of to MCG, also is a defendant.

"Fundamentally, this is a battery claim," said John C. Bell Jr., one of the lawyers representing the Alzheimer's patients and their families.

The Richmond County Superior Court lawsuit accuses Novartis and Quintiles of civil conspiracy. They are accused of knowing enough about how the doctors were running the drug trials that they aided in the alleged wrongs done to the patients.

Mr. Bell said Novartis and Quintiles have refused to provide information and have insisted on secrecy that makes the plaintiffs' attorneys' job impossible.

The plaintiffs want class-action status so that any of the 145 patients who took part in the study of drug SDZ ENA 713 can join the lawsuit. They can't ask the patients to join or determine whehter they have claims because the pharmaceutical company refuses to name them in medical documents, Mr. Bell said.

Federal law prohibits the company from releasing the names and medical histories, countered Wayne R. Bond and James W. Purcell, two of the attorneys representing Novartis. Patients have a right to confidentiality, especially those who haven't joined the lawsuit, Mr. Bond said.

Mr. Bell also listed complaints that Novartis is classifying everything as a protected trade secret that cannot be shared with anyone.

Mr. Bond said 85 percent of the documents have been copied and delivered without any problem, but he said the remainder must be considered confidential.

Judge Albert M. Pickett brought the opposing counsel to compromises: Patients' medical information will remain sealed from the public, as will trade-secret information. He promised to deal with any individual arguments over particular documents as they arise.

In other court action, attorney David E. Hudson, representing The Augusta Chronicle, told Judge Pickett that he wants to intervene to ensure no more information than necessary is kept secret.

The Chronicle's complaint will be dealt with at a hearing to be scheduled next month. Defense attorneys asked for time to response to Mr. Hudson's request to intervene.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.