French pharma giant Servier found guilty in Mediator slimming drug scandal
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A French court has ruled that Servier, France’s second largest pharmaceutical company, is guilty of "aggravated fraud" and "involuntary manslaughter" over a diabetes and weight loss pill which is blamed for hundreds of deaths.
The Mediator affair is one of France's worst health scandals. The drug was on the market for 33 years and used by about five million people before being pulled in 2009 over fears it could cause serious heart problems. And yet concerns over the drug had been raised a decade earlier.
The company was fined €2.7 million for aggravated fraud and manslaughter, but the court rejected the charges of "aggravated deceit" in orchestrating a cover-up.
Servier's former deputy boss, Jean-Philippe Seta, was sentenced to a suspended jail sentence of four years, far lower than the five years (three behind bars) and €200,000 fine demanded by the prosecution.
France's medicines agency was fined €303,000 for its role in the scandal.
More than 6,500 plaintiffs, including France’s health insurance funds, had sought €1 billion in damages from the drug’s manufacturer Servier.
Some, like former GP Dominique Dupagne found the sentencing far too light. "This guy [Seta] deliberately fooled ill people, 2,000 of whom died because of his drug, and he gets a suspended sentence? This needs an explanation," he wrote on Twitter.
Ce type a trompé sciemment des malades dont 2000 sont morts à cause de son médicament, bien plus que Daesh en France, et il prend du sursis ? Je veux bien qu'on m'explique. #MEDIATOR https://t.co/N3LgRccnhZ— Dominique Dupagne (@DDupagne) March 29, 2021
Investigators accuse the drugmaker of knowingly concealing the risks posed by Mediator for years, allegations it denies. The first cases of heart disease linked to the drug were reported in 1999, a decade before the drug was withdrawn.
A total of 12 people and 11 legal entities - Servier, nine subsidiaries and France's medicine watchdog - were tried in late 2019 and early 2020 over their alleged role in a scandal that contributed to widespread distrust in France of the pharmaceutical industry.
Many women victims
During the trial Servier's former second-in-command, Jean-Philippe Seta, admitted that Servier had "made mistakes".
Initially intended for overweight people with diabetes, Mediator was widely prescribed to healthy individuals as a way of losing weight through suppressing appetite.
Many of the victims who testified in court about the impact of the drug on their lives were women. Exhausted and out of breath, they recounted their stories sitting down.
"It was said that the drug was extraordinary. I lost ten kilos the first month," said one plaintiff, Stephanie, who took the drug for three years before being diagnosed with heart disease in 2009.
About 500 people are thought to have died as a result of the drug, though experts say it may eventually cause as many as 2,100 deaths.
Thousands of victims have already reached settlements with the company, totalling nearly €200 million, according to Servier.
French watchdog failed
Dr Irene Frachon, a pulmonologist in Brittany, first raised the alarm about Mediator in 2007 and played a key role in bringing the case to light through her campaign and investigation.
A 2016 French movie, called "150 milligrams", was based on her work.
Before today's verdict she said: "I hope the court will give us the tools to understand how such deceit could have gone on for so long".
Servier and its former executive Seta claim they did not know the drug was dangerous until 2009 when it was withdrawn.
By then it had already been outlawed in the United States, Spain and Italy.
France's medicine watchdog ANSM, which was tried over its delay in halting sales of the drug, has admitted to its "share of responsibility" in the scandal.
The other defendants included several consultants, who served on public bodies while being on Servier's payroll, and a former right-wing senator accused of modifying a report on the scandal to downplay the company's role in the affair.
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