February 1, 2016 3:06 pm
Updated: February 2, 2016 2:50 pm

Cold-FX company hid study results, lawyer leading class-action lawsuit alleges

WATCH: Researchers working for the manufacturer of a popular, Canadian-made cold and flu remedy found the capsules were no more effective than placebos. But, as Sean O'Shea reports, the research wasn't released until a class-action lawsuit was started against the company.

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A Vancouver lawyer who’s filed a class-action lawsuit against the makers of Cold-FX, says manufacturers knew the product wasn’t more effective than placebos and withheld research that came to that conclusion.

John Green has filed lawsuits in British Columbia and Saskatchewan – if the case is approved in Saskatchewan, it could have nationwide implications. He says that if the cases succeed, in a few years consumers could be able to apply for reimbursement for any Cold-FX products they purchased.

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“A big pharmaceutical company sells a product that claims it does something when it doesn’t. That’s what this case is about,” Green told Global News.

“The research just doesn’t support what they say the product does,” he alleged.

READ MORE: How do you treat the common cold? Here’s what works and what doesn’t

The initial class action lawsuit was filed in 2012. It’s in the hands of the B.C. Supreme Court and is winding through the certification process, Green explained. If it moves forward in B.C., certification could be applied in Saskatchewan, too – in that case, because of differences in the rules governing class-action suits there, claims could be made for all of Canada.

Green says the lawsuit would cover every box of Cold-FX that was allegedly sold with false advertising. There is no claim amount tied to the class-action lawsuit.

“Every single box that had the alleged false statement would be caught by the class-action lawsuit. It’s not dependent on the people, but on the boxes,” he said. After that, Canadians could apply to be reimbursed for two to three boxes, for example.

READ MORE: Fever-reducing pills may help spread flu, Canadian study warns

The lawsuit is making headlines again because of a media report that suggests Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the Laval-based company behind Cold-FX, did not disclose results of a study that suggested the product wasn’t any more effective than placebos.

Valeant told Global News that it’s standing by its product.

“The company denies the allegations being made and is vigorously defending this matter,” a spokesperson said in an email.

Valeant marketed its product to consumers as a fast-acting medication to stave off the onset of a cold or flu by boosting the immune system.

Green says the packaging says Cold-FX provides relief from certain symptoms after three days of usage, for example, but that clinical trials couldn’t support these promises.

READ MORE: Telling the difference between cold and flu symptoms

A 2004 clinical trial, led by Dr. Gerry Predy, who is a now a medical officer of health in Alberta, didn’t make its way into the public’s hands. Predy told the National Post that he can’t remember if he submitted the study to medical journals for publication.

Valeant wasn’t legally obligated to release results from its product testing.

Health Canada told Global News that the federal agency can’t comment on “matters that are before the courts.” It said the Natural Health Products Regulations doled out by the government body sets out “requirements governing the sale, manufacture, packaging, labelling, importation, distribution and storage” of products that fall under the guidelines.

“Evidence that was submitted as part of Cold FX’s product license application met the requirements as set out in the regulations in order for the product to be licensed,” a spokesman said in an email to Global News.

READ MORE: 5 ways to protect yourself from the flu

In 2014, a Canadian study led by scientists in Alberta that looked at the efficacy of a handful of cold and flu remedies suggested that studies on Cold-FX came back with inconsistent results across the board.

Some research suggested that it worked while others said it didn’t. The University of Alberta researchers couldn’t offer a bottom line advice because the results weren’t standardized.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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