B.C. couple launches class-action lawsuit over ineffective fertility drug
Published Tuesday, February 16, 2016 10:17PM EST
A British Columbia couple has launched a class-action lawsuit against the maker of a fertility drug after certain batches of the drug were recalled over concerns about their potency late last year.
Amanda and Joep Olthuis are suing Swiss-based Ferring Pharmaceuticals, alleging that an ineffective batch of the drug Bravelle dashed their hopes of having children.
They also say they can't afford another round of treatment.
The drug is designed to help women's ovaries produce more eggs, often in combination with another hormone for growth and ovulation, as part of a cycle of in vitro fertilization.
Amanda Olthuis was 36 years old when she and her husband travelled from their home in Port Moody, B.C., to the Genesis Fertility Centre in Vancouver.
There, she was prescribed a series of treatments over the next several months, including injections of Bravelle.
The couple says the total cost of those treatments was $14,000, a sum that required years of saving.
"It took us two years to save up the money. I had to work six days a week … we didn't go to movies, we didn't go out for dinners," Olthuis told CTV News.
"We scrounged, scraped and saved for two years because we wanted a family."
But to the couple's shock, the IVF cycle failed and the batch of Bravelle Olthuis was taking was recalled.
Ferring announced last October that tests showed four lots of Bravelle, sold between 2014 and 2015 in the U.S. and Canada, had displayed "reduced potency" and could result in lessened therapeutic effect.
The company said the batches were "unlikely" to result in direct adverse health consequences in the short term, but warned there was the potential for "unnecessary overexposure" of patients in the process of determining an effective dose.
Ferring is offering to refund the cost of the drug -- about $2,500 -- but the couple says they are also owed the cost of the IFV cycle.
"We would have never have done the whole cycle if we knew the drug was a dud," said Joep Olthuis.
"We really started realizing we deserve more."
Quebec is the only Canadian province that provides universal coverage of the costs of IVF. The province's health plan covers up to three cycles of the treatment. Last fall, Ontario agreed to cover the cost of one cycle for women under 43.
Amanda and Joep Olthuis are also suing Ferring for other related health care costs, out-of-pocket expenses like travel, loss of income, pain and suffering, as well as the "loss of opportunity to have biological children."
"The Defendant may have squandered these women’s last opportunity to get pregnant, causing serious mental and emotional harm to couples who now may be unable to start families of their own," a statement of claim submitted to B.C.'s Supreme Court says.
The law firm representing the couple says it has been contacted by another 20 families across Canada about issues relating to Bravelle.
"It is our understanding is that there are hundreds across the country who have been affected," said David Klein, managing partner of Klein Lawyers.
There are also reportedly dozens of similar lawsuits in the U.S.
In a statement, Michael Seckler, the general manager of Ferring, said the company is aware of the lawsuit, but can't comment on pending litigation.
"Distribution of Bravelle has been halted while an analysis to establish the root cause of the issue is carried out," said Seckler.
"We appreciate the urgency of this issue, and are working hard to restore supply as quickly as possible."
The company says "manufacturing issues" have slowed the release of new batches of Bravelle.
That's not a problem for many other couples as there are other drugs that can be used instead.
But Joep and Amanda Olthuis, who's about to turn 38 in March, say the issues with the drug have cost them precious time and money in their efforts to have children.
"I just want to have a family -- that is our dream," said Joep.
"It is getting harder and harder when we miss out on these chances and we're cheated out of that."
With a report from CTV’s medical affairs specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip