Osteoarthritis patients take Teva company to court

Altman/Ta’am has claimed for years that food supplement Mega Gluflex heals, treats, relieves pain from painful condition.

Mega Gluflex_311 (photo credit: bteva.co.il)
Mega Gluflex_311
(photo credit: bteva.co.il)
The Supreme Court on Thursday recognized as a class-action suit a group of osteoarthritis patients‚ legal action against the Altman/Ta’am Teva company, which has claimed for years that the food supplement Mega Gluflex heals, treats or relieves pain from the painful condition.
During the past seven years at least, according to medical adviser Dr. Gad Shmueli who spoke for the plaintiffs, the company has sold NIS 1 billion of the food supplement. Known generically as glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate, the non-drug may not make therapeutic claims for a food supplement.
Shmueli testified on behalf of plaintiff Yitzhak Hoshen – an osteoarthritis patient who took seriously the company’s radio and other media ads claiming initially that it rebuilds cartilage eroded by disease, and thus improves joint movement and relieves pain.
After complaints to the Health Ministry by patients who purchased the NIS 300- per-bottle product that it did not help them, the company downplayed the claims in its advertisements, quoting people saying the capsules turned their lives around and making statements that the produce was beneficial because “the body has no spare parts.”
Hoshen told Shmueli that he had to undergo four operations on his joints even though he had taken Mega Gluflex. The physician, who retired earlier this year, told The Jerusalem Post that he spent a year studying the medical literature on glucosamine/ chondroitin sulfate and found that studies “showed Mega Gluflex has no proven medical benefits, only a placebo effect that may help patients feel better only because they believe it will ease the pain.”
Shmueli said that according to studies, the food supplement goes through the digestive system and turns into sugar near the appendix, without any active ingredients that build up cartilage.
The Tel Aviv District Court accepted Shmueli’s argument that Mega Gluflex provides no medical effect and that the company’s advertisements were misleading, but Altman/Ta’am Teva appealed.
The court said a year ago that there were good arguments for applying for recognition as a class-action suit, and it reached the Supreme Court. A three-justice panel of Asher Grunis, Edna Arbel and Esther Hayut decided not to intervene on behalf of the company and recognized the case as a class-action suit.
“Neither of the courts rejected any of my claims,” Shmueli said.
The case as a class-action suit, which was first applied for in 2006, will be returned to Judge Magen Altuvia in the Tel Aviv District Court, Shmueli added.
Although the Health Ministry opposed the advertisements, it and its legal department and the Attorney General’s Office did not join the patients’ request for a class-action suit.
The Supreme Court said it attempted to bring the two sides to agree, but it failed, thus it had to decide on the appeal against the lower court’s ruling. The justices said the company’s claims for the food supplement “appear to be misleading,” as it makes therapeutic claims for the product even though there is no research supporting this, including the lack of evidence that Mega Glufex “rebuilds cartilage.”
Thus, it approved the case as a class-action suit in which the four plaintiffs are recognized as representing a large number of customers and users over the course of years.
The company was charged NIS 10,000 in court costs.
Reacting to the Supreme Court announcement, Altman/ Ta’am Teva – through its public relations company – said that the Supreme Court “decided not to intervene at this time in the main procedure.”
“The District Court decided that the food supplement Mega Gluflex is effective against joint pain and helps increase the scope of movement of those suffering from joint pain,” the statement continued. “The discussion at present relates to commentary given to the version of old advertisements for Mega Gluflex, and we reiterate our position that all the ads in the past, and those in the resent,were and are true.
We thank all its hundreds of thousands of customers who continue to show their faith in the company and the product.”
Shmueli said the company’s official reaction was itself misleading because the Supreme Court “did not intervene” in the lower court’s ruling against the company and rejected Altman/ Ta’am Teva’s claims, thus recognizing the classaction suit.