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Newlywed's deadly injection from her sister

PUBLISHED: 14:37 11 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:15 07 September 2010

Ben McPartland A HEALTHY newlywed collapsed and died after her sister injected her with an unlicensed wonder drug from her family s pharmaceutical company, an inquest heard. Yolanda Cox, 24, died at Hampstead's Royal Free hospital on June 27 2007 - seve

Ben McPartland

A HEALTHY newlywed collapsed and died after her sister injected her with an unlicensed "wonder drug" from her family's pharmaceutical company, an inquest heard.

Yolanda Cox, 24, died at Hampstead's Royal Free hospital on June 27 2007 - seven days after being given the drug B71 at her home in Finchley Road.

The Oxford University graduate died from anaphylactic shock as a direct result of the drug being injected into her arm by her sister Dr Yvonne Pembakian, St Pancras coroner Dr Andrew Reid ruled.

B71 - designed to tackle diabetes - was still being tested in trials in the Netherlands, last Thursday's inquest heard.

But Ms Cox, her sister and her mother Dr Arpi Rogers - all part of the family firm Amro Biotech - were all using the drug to treat a variety of other health problems including high cholesterol. On the day Ms Cox died, the syringe contained three times the dosage being used in the Dutch tests.

Patrick Cox, her husband of only 51 weeks and an Amro Biotech director, said: "I was working in the garden all day. Yolanda came out complaining of itchiness in her arm.

"Two minutes later, she was inside sitting on the sofa and she was struggling for breath. I went upstairs to get an inhaler and we called the ambulance. She was treated with oxygen and then taken to hospital. I think her heart stopped beating for a long time."

A weak pulse was recovered but, by that point, Royal Free doctors believed she was permanently brain damaged.

On June 27, she had brain stem tests - against the family's wishes - which revealed her brain was irreversibly damaged. Four days later, her life support machine was switched off, despite threats from the family to take court action.

The drug was being developed to reduce insulin levels but the family believed it could treat a variety of other diseases from cancer to eczema.

It emerged at the inquest that a terminal cancer patient, Catherine Clayton, who was given eight weeks to live, was also being given the drug. Ms Clayton went on to live for a year but was unable to take the drug after Ms Cox's death despite making several requests to the family.

Ms Cox took it for mild asthma, eczema, polycystic ovaries and high cholesterol, despite there being no evidence that the drug could be used to cure any of these conditions, the inquest heard.

The coroner quizzed her sister - who was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in the days after the tragedy - on why Ms Cox and the family felt the need to take an unlicensed product rather than one available on the market.

She said: "As far as we were concerned high cholesterol was a symptom of the underlying condition (insulin resistance). So even if you treat it, the underlying condition is still there, which is potentially aggravating other things like eczema, asthma and polycystic ovaries. So there is no treatment for insulin resistance.

"Yolanda knew all about this product. She had grown up with it. She was working for the company and she had been to presentations where it had been presented to people.

"She asked for the drug. Believe it or not, we do not like taking medicines so we really believed this to be safe."

The high dose was given to her sister to achieve better results, she added, and rejected the coroner's suggestion that they were all taking part in a live drug trial.

She said: "We were not doing it to see if it would work. It never entered my head that I was conducting a trial."

The family's aim was to get the drug licensed and on to the market as quickly as possible and available to the general public, she said. But, after Ms Cox's death, it was quarantined by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Paramedic Lisa Rahim described the "secrecy" around the drug and how information was not forthcoming from the family, which hindered the treatment of Ms Cox.

Giving a verdict of death by misadventure, Dr Reid said: "It is for others to decide if there was a sufficient evidence basis or experience for using B71 and for it to have been administered as an unlicensed product."

After the inquest, Det Sgt Mark Sayer, from Camden CID, did not rule out criminal proceedings in the future. He said: "This has been a tragic case. Based on the findings of the coroner, there may be further reviews with the crown prosecution service.

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