Dublin man blames acne drug for son's death

A Dublin businessman will this week take on one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies in the High Court, in an attempt…

A Dublin businessman will this week take on one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies in the High Court, in an attempt to prove his son committed suicide as a result of using one of it products.

If Mr Liam Grant is successful in his case against Roche Pharmaceuticals, it could open the way for up to 70 further cases against the company in the United States.

Mr Grant, an accountant, is "100 per cent convinced" that his 20 year-old son, also called Liam, committed suicide in June 1997 because he was severely depressed as a result of taking Roaccuntane - a drug used to treat severe acne.

In the discovery hearing, Mr Grant is seeking access documents held by the Swiss-based company which, he believes, will indicate how much the company knew about the possible adverse consequences of taking Roaccutane.


At the time of Liam's death the drug, called Accuntane in the US, was carrying a label in some countries warning that adverse reactions were experienced by some users. These included "depression, psychosis and, rarely, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and suicide".

The warning was not carried on the drug in Ireland when Liam started taking it in February 1997.

Since his son's death Mr Grant has spent €700,000 on scientific research, which he has funded by selling properties.

The first of the two research programmes he funded, from the University of Massachusetts, was published last April in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US. It showed the active ingredient in Roaccuntane reduced cell creation in the brains of mice when administered in clinical doses.

The second study, to be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in March, involved 28 acne-suffering patients. Its author, Dr J. Douglas Bremner at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, indicates the drug "affects brain function . . . in the areas involved with depression".

The case in the High Court is expected to run for two days. Roche Pharmaceuticals is disputing Mr Grant's allegations. The company has offered to pay Mr Grant an ex-gratia payment to drop the case, but he has refused.

Roche continues to market the drug saying: "It is a well tolerated and effective medicine, which means we have no option but to dispute the claim Mr Grant made. We continue to have the fullest confidence in the drug."

When contacted last week Mr Grant said he did not want to comment in advance of the case.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times