'Raging injustice' fuels father's quest to take on acne-drug giant

LIAM GRANT has already spent 1m trying to prove his son's suicide was caused by acne drug Roaccutane - and he is ready to spend a million more.

Last week the High Court reserved judgement on whether or not to allow Mr Grant to continue to sue drugmakers Roche after the Dublin father-of-four rejected an out-of-court settlement.

Roche offered to pay Mr Grant the largest amount possible under the Civil Liability Act 1961 - 37,000, plus his legal costs and special damages. But the drug company refused to admit liability and this battle was never about the money for Mr Grant.

Essentially, the Roche case is that proceedings would take several months if the case goes to trial. It would require the turning over of millions of pages of documents. And, even if the court finds that Roche Pharmaceuticals contributed to his son's death, Mr Grant cannot achieve any higher amount in damages than he has already turned down. As the relief he is seeking is no greater than the relief already offered, the case should be stopped now.

The High Court decision, if it is to stop the case, will set a precedent. Mr Justice Finnegan, who has described the case as novel, will give his reserved judgement in the next High Court term, in June.

Following huge interest in the case in the US Mr Grant told USA Today: "What I can get from a court is a ruling that Roaccutane caused the death of my son and that Roche knew that the drug was a serious risk. I am convinced I am 100 per cent right. The death of one person from this drug is too many. Somebody had to say stop and that person happened to be me."

Since his son's death in 1997, Mr Grant has sold off properties in his retirement portfolio to fund several major, independent research programmes into the side-effects of Roaccutane. The latest study, by Dr JD Bremner of Yale and Emory Universities in the United States, will be published in the highly respected American Journal of Psychiatry later this month.

Dr Bremner submitted 30 acne sufferers to brain scans and psychological tests before they were prescribed acne treatment - half received Roaccutane and half antibiotics. After four months, the ones who had taken Roaccutane showed decreased activity in the area of the brain thought to be involved in regulating mood, while the patients who had taken antibiotics showed no change. There were no differences in the severity of depressive symptoms between both groups before or after treatment.

Roche has repeatedly denied that Roaccutane causes psychiatric problems. A spokesman said: "Roche feels a great deal of sympathy for Liam Grant regarding the loss of his son, but according to a significant body of scientific evidence there is no cause-and-effect relationship between Roaccutane and psychiatric events."

Mr Grant knew he was taking a gamble when he commissioned the latest research as Dr Bremner would have published his results regardless of the outcome. But the self-employed accountant seems to have accepted his retirement nest egg will most likely be swallowed up in his quest to bring down the pharmaceutical giant.

The 58-year-old Dubliner has no pension and was depending on his property investments to sustain himself and his wife Loyola in their old age. The David and Goliath battle he has waged over the past eight years may have whittled down his portfolio, but Mr Grant seems unlikely to quit even if the High Court rules against him.

Roche is one of the world's biggest drug companies and tens of thousands of Irish teenagers have taken Roaccutane - an anti-acne treatment that causes such severe deformities in developing foetuses, women are advised to abstain from sex or use two types of contraceptive while taking it.

The drug now carries a warning linking it to "depression, psychosis, behavioural problems, suicide and suicidal thoughts". When Liam took the drug these warnings were stated on packets of the drug in other countries, but not in Ireland until after the first of Mr Grant's studies was commissioned in 1998.

Liam was a handsome and popular 20-year-old in November 1996 when he went to the family GP Dr Pamela Mangal complaining about his spots. She prescribed a course of antibiotics, but Liam returned three months later asking for Roaccutane after hearing a friend had used it.

Dr Mangal told the inquest into Liam's death that he had shown no signs of depression about his acne which was rated 0.5 in severity on a scale of zero to five. The Irish licence for Roaccutane states it should only be prescribed as a last resort in severe cases.

Dr Mangal said: "He was an outgoing young lad. He had a few spots on his face. He played in a band and he had girlfriends. He was an attractive young man who wanted his problem cleared up."

The drug is so strong it can only be prescribed by a dermatologist. Liam was referred to Dr Gillian Murphy. She said he claimed to have a five-year history of acne so, in February 1997, she prescribed a daily dose of 60 mgs of Roaccutane.

Liam's parents had no idea he was on the drug and admitted that even if they had known, they would have assumed it to be safe. A second-year engineering student at UCD, Liam was a sportsman and musician and had built a recording studio in the garden of his West Dublin home. Everything pointed to a young man looking forward to a bright future as a sound engineer. But after taking Roaccutane Liam started complaining of a sensitivity to light. He withdrew and spent a lot of time in his darkened bedroom. His parents assumed he was studying. But after his death his younger brother admitted Liam had asked him to tell friends who called that he wasn't at home. Liam committed suicide on June 15, 1997. He left a note saying the turnout at his funeral would show how few friends he had. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Like any parent who loses a child to suicide Mr Grant is devastated, but it is a raging sense of injustice rather than grief that drives his unique mission. After his son's death Mr Grant embarked on a tireless trawl of scientific literature. He found 20 published studies linking Roaccutane to psychiatric problems and none linking other acne treatments to such side-effects. He was horrified to discover other countries carried explicit warnings linking suicide and depression to usage of Roaccutane, but at that time Ireland did not. The evidence continued to mount and Mr Grant realised new scientific studies were needed. No one else seemed willing to do it, so Mr Grant decided to take the unprecedented step of commissioning and paying for the studies.

He placed an advertisement in the Irish Independent looking for a suitable scientist and in 1998 the first study was commissioned. In the same year, the Irish Medicines Board insisted, for the first time, on Roaccutane carrying warnings linking it to suicide.

Mr Grant later widened his campaign by employing world-class scientists in America and helping to launch the website www. accutaneaction.com

Hundreds of other families who believe their loved ones committed suicide due to the side-effects of Roaccutane are closely watching the outcome of Mr Grant's upcoming court case. Mr Grant refused to comment until the court case concludes, but he has previously stated that he does not begrudge a cent of the million euro he has so far spent. He said: "The money (was) readily spent in the name of my wonderful son Liam who I know with certainty would still be alive today if he had not taken Roaccutane."