Dispute threatens effort to market abortion pill Group with U.S. rights sues man picked to raise money to make drug

November 06, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A dispute between the groups working to bring the French abortion pill to American women is threatening to create further delays in making the drug, mifepristone, available.

On Monday, the Population Council, the nonprofit family planning group that holds the U.S. rights to mifepristone, and Advances in Health Technology, another nonprofit group set up to educate doctors about the drug, filed suit against Joseph D. Pike, who was chosen by the council to raise money to manufacture and distribute mifepristone.

The lawsuit, in New York State Supreme Court, charges Pike with fraud and seeks to have his interest in the drug transferred to a receiver, who would then sell it.

For years, mifepristone, introduced in Europe as RU-486, has been a rallying point for abortion rights advocates, who believe that since it can be taken in the privacy of a doctor's office, it could curtail much of the violence that has beset abortion clinics. Anti-abortion groups, which oppose the use of mifepristone, have fought to prevent its sale in the United States.

"Pike's fraud now imperils the mifepristone project," the complaint said. "Unless Pike is expeditiously removed, it will be much more difficult, and perhaps impossible, to raise the additional funds that are still needed to fund the project, and another weapon with which to attack the project will be furnished to its ideological opponents."

Margaret Catley-Carlson, the president of the Population Council, said her group told Pike in late July to divest, after learning that he had been disbarred for forgery in a 1985 North Carolina real estate deal and had been given a suspended two-year sentence. Catley-Carlson said she had long known Pike as a backer of products shunned by pharmaceutical companies, like the Copper-T intrauterine device.

Roussel Uclaf, the French manufacturer of mifepristone, refused bring the drug to market in the United States because of concerns over anti-abortion boycotts and product liability litigation. In 1994, under pressure from women's groups and the Clinton administration, Roussel Uclaf donated its American rights to the Population Council, which last year chose Pike to handle it.

"We are responsible for not having done due diligence on someone we had had as a partner for 10 years," Catley-Carlson said. "We knew nothing until last March or April when an investor told us this disquieting story. We immediately called Joe and he told us it was a different Joe Pike. Then we heard he'd told others a different story. We went back and he told us he'd voluntarily surrendered his legal license."

She continued: "At that point, we asked him to get a legal opinion on whether this was something that needed to be disclosed to investors. In July, it became clear that we'd gotten only a very pastel version of what happened, and that he was not a person of integrity and we told him he would have to sell his interest."

Pike was chosen to handle the drug last year at a time when financing it was difficult. But since July, when the Food and Drug Administration judged the drug safe and effective, investors have shown great interest. Pike, through a spokeswoman, refused to be interviewed. But Leslie Sebastian, a spokeswoman for Danco, the company he set up to handle the drug's distribution, said he was negotiating to sell his interest and had a likely investor.

The lawsuit complains that Pike has not accounted for all the money invested.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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