By Jeff Gerth, ProPublica
In 1994, a scientist studying her company's new medical imaging dye reached troubling findings. Her boss, she recalls, told her to "burn the data."
That alleged request surfaced this week in a groundbreaking trial over the dye, which is injected into patients to sharpen MRI scans and has been owned since 2004 by GE Healthcare. At issue is whether GE did enough to protect patients from a rare but devastating side effect of the dye: a disease that causes large areas of the skin to become thick and hard. ProPublica investigated the dye in 2009 and 2010, revealing that GE ignored the advice of its own safety experts to "proactively" restrict its use.
GE's lawyer, John Fitzpatrick, didn't dispute the request to burn the data in his opening statement to the jury on Tuesday. But after this story was published, the company told ProPublica that the scientist's boss denies having told her to destroy data. Fitzgerald also confirmed that an outside researcher will testify that he would not have published a study stating the dye was safe if he had been shown certain internal company research.
But Fitzpatrick insisted that GE's accusers were twisting such evidence to falsely impugn the company and wrongly suggest that it had endangered patients. He insisted GE had always acted ethically with regard to the dye, known as Omniscan.
After settling several hundred other cases out of court over the last several years, GE went to trial this week in federal court in Cleveland — the first opportunity for the drug's history to be fully aired. The plaintiff, Paul Decker, 61, contends that he contracted the skin ailment, known as nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, because of an injection of Omniscan in 2005. He was diagnosed in 2010.