J&J tells shareholders new products boosting business, but some protest harm from products

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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said Thursday that all three of its business segments are doing well and made significant medical advances last year.

Gorsky told about 1,650 shareholders at J&J’s annual meeting that the company is poised to lead the health care industry, noting approvals and launches of several new prescription medicines and medical devices last year. Just Wednesday, the company got its latest prescription drug approved: Sylvant, for the rare blood disorder Castleman’s disease.

Meanwhile, most of its recalled consumer health products, such as pain relievers Tylenol and Motrin and allergy pills Benadryl and Zyrtec, that are back in stores have regained the first or second position in their markets, said Sandra Peterson, head of the consumer products business. But about 25 per cent of the products, many recalled for quality and safety deficiencies, won’t be back on the market for 12 to 18 months, she said.

J&J also said it was raising its quarterly dividend for the 52nd straight year, to 70 cents from 66 cents per share.

The company said a preliminary count of shareholder votes showed investors overwhelming re-elected J&J’s board members, but voted down a shareholder proposal requiring senior executives to retain until retirement a significant proportion of the J&J stock they receive as part of their compensation.

The meeting near the company’s New Brunswick, N.J., headquarters drew a number of patients protesting J&J products they said had harmed them, particularly pelvic mesh implants. The sling-like mesh strips, used to lift sagging pelvic organs, have been linked to crippling pain, infections and other complications.

“Mr. Gorsky, you hurt me,” said Teresa Sawyer of Toledo, Ohio, who said she had mesh surgically implanted in 2011 to fix bladder leakage. “I started having massive infections and strange immune conditions.”

Sawyer said the mesh implant “ruined my sex life, and I was a newlywed.” She said she’s had four corrective surgeries to remove the mesh from her tissue and is starting to mend.

Gay Courter, saying she was speaking on behalf of “tens of thousands of women like me,” said there’s no reason they should have to “suffer lifelong, disabling pain.”

Gorsky told the women he’s sorry about their problems and that the company puts patient safety first.

Many of those women are suing Johnson & Johnson, alleging it didn’t properly warn them of the product’s dangers. The implants, which J&J has said are considered a “gold standard” treatment, remain on the market.

Before the meeting, some held a press conference on the issue.

Robert Fish of Macclenny, Fla., said his mother Darlene, 68, fatally shot herself in 2011 because of unendurable pain caused by mesh she’d had implanted in 2008.

Estelle Tasz of Pittsburgh said she’s had numerous surgeries to remove pelvic mesh she had implanted in 2005, but some is still poking into vaginal tissue, making intercourse impossible. She’s too ill to care for her adopted child and has had to hire help at home.

“I want accountability” from Johnson & Johnson, said Tasz, 37, who said the mesh has caused chronic bladder infections and kidney and heart damage, and that she’s facing two more repair surgeries.

“I’m not the person I was, the mom I was, and obviously not the wife I was,” she said. “I want answers and I want my life back.”

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Follow Linda A. Johnson at www.twitter.com/LindaJ_onPharma

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