A nonprofit health advocacy group wants Bayer correct its marketing techniques — this one involving its Men’s One A Day multivitamin.
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is suing the German drug giant for allegedly claiming falsely that selenium in the men’s multivitamin might reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, comes on the heels of several multimillion-dollar settlements that Bayer has paid out to resolve claims about misleading advertising. This year, Bayer agreed to run a $20 million corrective advertising campaign about its birth control pill Yaz.
In 2007, it paid a $3.2 million fine over weight loss claims involving its One A Day vitamin as part of a consent decree reached with the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice and another $8 million to resolve allegations, raised by state attorneys general, that it hid safety issues surrounding its cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol.
“They’re repeat offenders on a number of fronts in the way that they market their products,” said Stephen Gardner, CSPI’s chief litigator in the latest multivitamin lawsuit.
In this case, CSPI alleges that Bayer is ignoring the results of the largest-ever prostate cancer prevention trial, which concluded that the mineral selenium was no more effective in reducing the risk of prostate cancer than a placebo. “They’ve thumbed their noses at several studies and have chosen to push these supplements as if they were actual anti-cancer drugs,” Gardner claimed.
According to Gardner, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has weighed in on this subject. Earlier this year, it released a letter stating that it was “highly unlikely that selenium supplements reduce the risk of prostate cancer.”
In a statement, Bayer said that it has “based a portion of the promotion for One A Day Men’s Formula on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s permitted qualified health claim that ‘Selenium may reduce the risk of certain cancers.’… FDA changed its permitted qualified health claim earlier this year and Bayer is in the process of revising the packaging and promotional materials for its One-A-Day Men’s and One-A-Day Men’s 50+.”
Gardner, the CSPI lawyer, said that about a month ago Bayer sent his organization a letter giving it 30 days to “retract everything” that it has been alleging about Bayer’s selenium claims. CSPI answered the letter with a lawsuit.
“Bayer’s threat to sue CSPI is clearly designed to have a chilling effect on free speech and to intimidate us into silence,” CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said in a statement.
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