Pharma giant's shares plummet after asbestos report
Shares of pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson tumbled sharply yesterday after a contested investigation by Reuters claimed the company had known for years its famous baby powder was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.
Reuters published a lengthy enquiry into one of the company’s most celebrated products, that claimed as early as 1971 the US-based multinational was aware that small amounts of asbestos were present in the talc.
It has continued to insist the baby powder, sold with the company’s distinctive logo, remains safe.
Johnson & Johnson strongly rejected the claim yesterday and insisted the product is entirely safe.
“This is all a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests prove our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer.
“Any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false,” the company said in a statement.
"Plaintiffs' attorneys out for personal financial gain are distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media," said Ernie Knewitz, J&J's vice president of global media relations.
The investigation examined company memos, international documents, along with deposition and trial testimony. The news agency said it showed the company, established in 1886, knew of the positive tests, and that senior executives, managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers worried about how to address the problem, while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.
It said almost 12,000 plaintiffs were suing the company, claiming that its talc caused cancer. Among them were 6,000 women with ovarian cancer.
Scientists have long linked asbestos to mesothelioma, which is associated with ovarian and other cancers, said Reuters.
Earlier this year, courts in New Jersey and California awarded damages to plaintiffs who claimed Johnson & Johnson talc products caused their mesothelioma. In July, $4.7bn (€4.1bn) was awarded in total damages to 22 women in St Louis, Missouri, who said asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talc powder contributed to their ovarian cancer.
Yesterday, as news of the investigation spread, shares of Johnson & Johnson fell by more than 6pc, wiping off about $24bn from the company's market capitalisation.