Woman lost hair and became suicidal after taking MS drug: suit
A mom with multiple sclerosis says she lost her hair, became covered in lesions and even became suicidal — all because of a greedy doctor who was cashing in on her dubious medication, according to a Manhattan lawsuit.
“I went to a very dark place,” Pamela Hill, 65, told The Post. “I just trusted [the doctor] and did not even question, which is something I’ll regret forever.’’
The retired Realtor’s nightmare began in 2016 when her Long Island doctor, Stephen Newman, suggested that she switch from the MS drug Tecfidera to a new pharmaceutical, Zinbryta, her suit says.
Hill, who was diagnosed with MS at age 29, said Tecfidera hadn’t been working for her anymore. Both it and Zinbryta are manufactured by Biogen.
What Hill didn’t know was that Zinbryta had serious risks and was only approved by the FDA for “second-line use,” or when safer options don’t work, her suit says.
Hill also later learned that Newman had raked in $365,000 from Biogen for consulting and other fees over 4¹/₂ years — more than 30 times the national average for his speciality, the papers state.
The doctor had been the lead author on a study funded by Biogen that compared Zinbryta with another drug, too, her suit says. Results of the study were published in April 2018 in the journal Neurology.
Yet Newman failed to reveal his financial relationship with Biogen, stating simply, “Nothing to disclose,” the filing says.
This is a major problem in the industry, according to Dr. Dennis Bourdette, who specializes in MS and who has frequently lectured on financial conflicts of interest from pharmaceutical funding.
“What they do is invite you on weekends to be a clinical consultant and pay you well,” he said of drug companies. “If you don’t prescribe any of the drugs, they’re not going to invite you.”
After Hill began taking Zinbryta, her hair fell out in clumps and she became covered in painful skin blisters that required hospitalization, according to her lawsuit.
The once-avid hiker and cyclist had to use a walker for the first time in her life — and on bad weeks was bedridden, the documents state.
“Around Christmas time I was actually suicidal because I was just so miserable,” Hill said.
The suit, filed by Hill’s lawyer, Alan Fuchsberg, says Newman knew that she had previously responded well to safer and significantly cheaper drugs, including Rebif and Gilenya, which are not
manufactured by Biogen.
She repeatedly told Newman she wasn’t doing well on Zinbryta and asked him to put her back on Rebif, but he refused — and she got worse, the papers say.
Hill has since moved to upstate Woodstock and is under the care of a new neurologist, Dr. Angela Applebee.
Applebee took Hill off Zinbryta — which was eventually yanked off the market after causing brain-swelling in some patients — and put her back on Rebif, the papers say.
Her new doctor told Hill that she had never prescribed Zinbryta because of the risks, according to the suit.
Meanwhile, Hill’s hair has not grown back. “They think it’s a permanent effect from the Zinbryta,” she said.
Her suit is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for fraud and negligence
It targets Newman as well as his practice, Island Neurological Associates, and Biogen.
Neither the suit’s defendants nor Newman’s lawyer, John Bell, returned calls for comment.
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