Keeping up with the furor that has followed Johnson & Johnson, India’s drug regulators have been collecting new test samples of baby powder.
The company has been facing allegations of asbestos contamination in its talcum powder.
A Reuters report published about two weeks ago said that the company was aware for decades of cancer-giving asbestos in its baby powder but did not disclose that information.
The revelation comes at a time when many lawsuits have been filed against the company in the United States alleging that asbestos in its talcum powder causes cancer. Some of those cases carried verdicts against Johnson & Johnson with multimillion dollar awards to plaintiffs.
“Prima facie, there seems to be no problem, but we are going to investigate once again. There are a few different angles now,” said Navneet Marwah, state drug controller in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, which has a Johnson & Johnson manufacturing plant.
In a statement, Johnson & Johnson refuted the reporting from Reuters. “Studies of more than 100,000 men and women show that talc does not cause cancer or asbestos-related disease. Thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos,” the statement said.
The Reuters report cites documents that prove that company officials knew about the asbestos contamination and failed to disclose it to the public and regulators.
“We have also made our cosmetic talc mines and processed talc available to regulators for testing. Regulators have tested both, and they have always found our talc to be asbestos-free,” the company statement said.
In 2016, after multiple reports of contamination in Johnson & Johnson baby powder, Indian regulators had collected samples and tested the same, but the reports came back negative.
“First tests were done in 2016 when reports came out that the powder might be contaminated. Initial tests were negative. But following the recent reports, we took samples that we will test once again,” Marwah said.
The results from the new testing for asbestos could come next week.
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In the United States, Johnson & Johnson stock dropped by almost 10% in one day, wiping out around $40 billion of its market value.
India has been grappling with keeping the pharmaceutical giant in check for years. The company has been under fire there over the distribution of faulty hip implants. The implants were manufactured by DePuy, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
Last month, an expert committee approved a formula to determine the compensation that the company is liable to pay to patients who have been recipients of the faulty Articular Surface Replacement hip replacement. The compensation could run into millions of dollars as more patients come forward. The Central Expert committee has set a base amount of $28,000, and it can go as high as $174,000 per person.
Earlier this month, the company approached the Delhi high court challenging the government’s order asking it to pay the compensation.