Paris, March 29
A Paris court will deliver its verdict on Monday in a case that grew into one of France’s biggest modern health scandals, ruling whether a French pharmaceutical company is guilty of manslaughter and other charges for selling a diabetes drug blamed for hundreds of deaths.
Accused of favouring profits over patients’ lives, Servier Laboratories is facing millions of euros in potential fines and damages after a huge trial involving 6,500 plaintiffs. They allege that the company allowed the drug, called Mediator, to be widely and irresponsibly prescribed as a diet pill — with deadly consequences. Servier says it didn’t know about the drug’s risks.
The exceptional trial ran from September 2019 to July 2020, with a two-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It was spread across five rooms at the Paris courthouse, connected by video link. Nearly 400 lawyers worked on the case.
Servier was tried for manslaughter, involuntary injury, fraud, influence trading and other charges. Investigating magistrates concluded that Servier for decades covered up Mediator’s effects on patients. France’s national medicines agency is also suspected of colluding in masking the drug’s dangers.
Prosecutors asked for nearly 15 million euros (nearly $18 million) in fines for Servier, and a three-year prison sentence and 278,000-euro fine for the only surviving Servier executive accused of involvement, Dr Jean-Philippe Seta.
In addition, the 6,500 plaintiffs want a total of 1 billion euros in damages.
Lawyers for Servier argued that the company wasn’t aware of the risks associated with Mediator before 2009, and said the company never pretended it was a diet pill. They have asked for an acquittal.
In the 33 years that Mediator was on the market, it was suspected in up to 2,000 deaths among millions who took it as an appetite suppressant, according to a 2010 study. Doctors also linked it to heart and lung problems.
One doctor flagged concerns as far back as 1998 and testified that he was bullied into retracting them. Facing questions about the drug’s side effects from medical authorities in Switzerland, Spain and Italy, Servier withdrew it from those markets between 1997 and 2004.
It took an independent investigation by another worried French doctor before the company suspended sales in its main market in France in 2009. It wasn’t sold in the U.S.
The company’s CEO and founder, Jacques Servier, was indicted early in the legal process but died in 2014. —AP