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Did Drug Manufacturer Know Its Cancer Drug Was Being Diluted?

A calm Robert Courtney has pleaded not guilty to a 20-count indictment that charges he diluted expensive cancer drugs for profit. Now authorities say at least one person died in the period Courtney was allegedly watering down the drugs, Taxol and Gemzar. Cynthia Bowers reports there are questions about what a leading drug maker may have known about the case.

Courtney faces a growing number of wrongful-death lawsuits, as does Gemzar's manufacturer, Eli Lilly, after startling allegations the company may have known there was something amiss at Courtney's pharmacy more than a year ago and did not alert authorities.

"The Eli Lilly representative started suspecting in early 2000 that the drugs were being diluted. He went to Eli Lilly with that information. It wasn't until the summer of 2001, some 18 months later, that they finally told the doctor," says attorney Michael Ketchmark.

Ketchmark, who represents patients and their loved ones, has filed nine lawsuits claiming, among other things, that the Indianapolis-based drug maker should have notified authorities and stopped selling Gemzar to Robert Courtney.

Delia Chelston, one of the plaintiffs, who has ovarian cancer, says the whole situation is beyond belief.

"I can't imagine what they were thinking. Or why anybody would do something like this. I wouldn't even dream of it."

A spokesman for Eli Lilly defended the company's actions.

"Any allegation that we knew of this alleged dilution in early 2000 is totally ridiculous," says Ed West of Eli Lilly.

Under federal law, Lilly had no legal obligation to alert anyone, but some believe they did have an ethical obligation.

Says Jeff Lanza of the FBI: "If a person or organization had information that chemotherapy drugs were being diluted, it would have been nice if they had shared that information with the FBI."

Federal authorities say it wasn't until a local doctor came to them with her suspicions that they were able to begin building a case against Courtney. Otherwise he would likely still be filling prescriptions, not facing years in prison. The case could go to court October 1st.
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