France: Trial To Begin On Drug Scandal That Caused 2,000 Deaths

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The accusations in the case vary from deceit to manslaughter which under the French Law can result in fines and jail terms.

Written By Divyam Jain | Mumbai | Updated On:

According to reports, a watershed trial is set to begin in France next week to decide on one of the country's biggest pharma companies scandals examining whether the pharma company behind a weight-loss pill thought to have sparked deadly side-effects concealed the risks associated with it. The accusations in the case vary from deceit to manslaughter which under the French Law can result in fines and jail terms. 

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The drug in question

As per reports, Private entity Servier, regulator Agence Nationale de Securite du medicament (ANSM) and 21 defendants will be up against more than 2,600 plaintiffs who feel the brand intentionally misguided patients for decades, assisted by lax behaviour of authorities. The weight-loss pill case had caused anger in France where authorities have said, as per reports, that around five million patients were in contact with the pill known as Mediator before it was pulled off the shelves in the year 2010, resulting somewhere around 500 and 2,000 related deaths. Questions related to the drug will be asked in the trial as to why the pill was in the market when there were allegations that it resulted in heart failure. The trial shall last for about seven months. 

The company and drug in question, Servier's amphetamine-derived drug was instituted to cure an increase in weight which is common with type-2 diabetes sufferers but was also prescribed widely as a hunger suppressor. Reportedly, many countries like Spain and Italy have outlawed the drug in the early 2000s. Mediator, whose active substance is called benfluorex, was close in structure to fenfluramine, another appetite suppressant sold by American Home Products, later known as Wyeth and now part of Pfizer. That drug, sold along with phentermine in a combination known as fen-phen, was also connected to pulmonary hypertension and heart valve dysfunction, resulting in it being pulled off the markets in 1997 along with thousands of legal claims of health issues and deaths.

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Indictment details

As per reports, 677-page French indictment has the magistrate noting that Servier from the 1970s knowingly hid the medication's true attributes and did not reveal health studies critical of the product proving a long-term fraud. The Lawyer for 250 petitioners, Mr Charles Joesph-Oudin has reportedly said that: the fact that the trial is taking place is a win for the victims of the drug. Meanwhile, Servier has stated that it has not lied about the effects of the drug medication and is willing to showcase that it has not acted against the patients' larger interest.  

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Defendants react

As per reports, Servier has recompensated out almost 132 million euros or $146 million to patients and victims and said that it will continue to do the same. Lawyer for Servier Mr. Francois de Castro has said that there is a stream of events shedding light as to how all this took place. The trial will also explore the role of authorities and regulators after a French investigation revealed the industry regulator was lax in acting and was too close to the pharma companies. The ANSM also said that it will cooperate with trial and is now complying with even stricter rules.

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