ABUJA, Nigeria &

A court denied a request today by Pfizer Inc. to throw out a Nigerian government lawsuit seeking $7 billion in damages over allegations the company conducted a drug experiment that led to deaths and disabilities among children more than a decade ago




Lawyers for the world's largest drug maker had argued in court earlier today that the case had been improperly filed and asked the judge to reject it on those grounds.




But the judge ruled that while the government had improperly lodged one amendment to the case, the overall suit could go ahead. He set the next hearing for July 20.




New York-based Pfizer has denied any wrongdoing. A federal court in New York City dismissed a 2001 lawsuit by disabled Nigerians who allegedly took part in the study; that case is under appeal.




The civil case under consideration in the capital, Abuja, is separate from a legal challenge launched in the northern state of Kano that seeks $2 billion from Pfizer. All the cases stem from the same mid-1990s drug study.




In the civil suit filed in Kano, authorities allege Pfizer illegally conducted a drug experiment on 200 children during a 1996 meningitis epidemic in the state's main city, also called Kano, resulting in deaths, brain damage, paralysis and slurred speech in many of the children.




Pfizer treated 100 meningitis-infected children with an experimental antibiotic, Trovan. Another 100 children, who were control patients in the study, received an approved antibiotic, ceftriaxone &

but the dose was lower than recommended, the families' lawyers alleged.




Up to 11 children in the study died, while others suffered physical disabilities and brain damage. Pfizer always insisted its records show none of the deaths was linked to Trovan or substandard treatment.




In the Abuja civil case, the government is asking for $500 million for treatment, compensation and support for the victims of the drug test and their families. Another $450 million is earmarked for damages related to money spent to overcome concerns among Nigerians because of the test, and $1 billion is sought to pay for health programs. The federal government is also seeking $5 billion in general damages.




Authorities in the Kano state are blaming the Pfizer controversy for widespread suspicion of government public health policies, particularly the global effort to vaccinate children against polio.




Islamic leaders in largely Muslim Kano had seized on the Pfizer controversy as evidence of a U.S.-led conspiracy. Rumors that polio vaccines spread AIDS or infertility spurred Kano and another heavily Muslim state, Zamfara, to boycott a polio vaccination campaign.




Vaccination programs restarted in Nigeria in 2004, after an 11-month boycott. But the delay set back global eradication &

the boycott was blamed for causing an outbreak that spread the disease across Africa and into the Middle East.