HEALTH Revlon health firm knew it was infecting people with hepatitis C
By Rosie Taylor
A PHARMACEUTICAL firm formerly owned by an arm of Revlon, the cosmetics giant, knew batches of its medical products were infecting patients with hepatitis C but failed to warn the public.
Leaked documents reveal that executives instead focused on sales figures and worried about their “market share”.
In the Eighties, Revlon operated a separate healthcare company that made blood plasma products under the name Armour Pharmaceuticals. The products were imported to Britain and given to haemophiliacs. But some batches were contaminated with viruses such as HIV or hepatitis C, which were passed on to British patients. At least 2,500 people died in the scandal, which involved a number of different blood products.
It has since emerged some of the donor blood used to make the imported products was bought from vulnerable and high-risk prison inmates, drug addicts and prostitutes.
Revlon has changed hands several times since the Eighties and the current company, which only makes cosmetics, has no relation to the pharmaceutical arm, which was sold off in 1986. But leaked documents suggest Revlon Health Care, the former company, knew about the dangers but failed to disclose them.
The Sunday Telegraph has seen minutes from an internal meeting in October 1985 that show Revlon Health Care executives were told that HIV was present in its heat-treated products and that three British patients had been infected with hepatitis C.
In response, one of the senior managers said: “We are in danger of losing a large part of our market share to our competitors” and “we have at least $6 million in sales at risk”.
Another disagreed that the product should undergo a more thorough heat treatment, arguing: “If we modify our heat treatment process … we’re going to incur potentially major expenses.”
The meeting focused on whether Revlon Health Care could match competitors’ safety claims and what data it needed to compete for new contracts. At no point do the minutes record any discussion of patient safety or whether the products should be withdrawn. But it is probable the issues were raised at other meetings, whose minutes have not been seen, before the withdrawal of the products.
In fact, the product, known as Factorate, was not withdrawn from use in the UK until a year later in October 1986.
Revlon Health Care agreed a multi-million-dollar deal to sell Armour to pharmaceutical company Rorer around six weeks after the meeting. The sale was finalised in January 1986. It has since been sold on a number of times and is now owned by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi. The current Revlon cosmetics company strongly denies any link to the scandal, saying its cosmetics firm was separate from the healthcare firm in the Eighties.
But a New York Times article from 1981 quotes Michel Bergerac, its then chairman and chief executive as saying: “Revlon is a cosmetics company and a healthcare company … Both businesses are doing very well.”
Representatives of Revlon Health Care could be asked to provide evidence to the independent Infected Blood Inquiry next spring.
A Revlon spokesman said: “Revlon wants to express its deep sadness and sympathy for anyone affected by this tragic case.
“However, Revlon has no connection to Armour or its products and the suggestion that it is in any way linked is misleading and inaccurate.
“Revlon Health and Revlon Cosmetics were two separate businesses. The healthcare business owned Armour until 1985 but Armour had no connection with Revlon Cosmetics.
“The current Revlon Inc was created in 1992 and never had ownership or control over Armour. What was Armour is now part of Sanofi.”
Sanofi did not respond to requests for comment.