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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Head of 'deadly' diet drug company to face court

Henry Samuel

The head of France's second largest drugs company whose Mediator diet pills have been linked to up to 2000 deaths has received a court summons next month.

Lawyers representing victims of the drug, originally for overweight diabetic patients but long a popular appetite suppressant, have issued a legal complaint against Jacques Servier, 88 and the laboratory he founded and runs.

They accuse him of "deliberately misleading patients who were consumers of Mediator on the (drug's) nature, type, substantial qualities, the composition".

The summons came a day after Xavier Bertrand, France's health minister vowed to overhaul France's health care system to make it more transparent and independent from the pharmaceutical lobby, following outcry over the scandal.

Servier "had primary and direct responsibility," Mr Bertrand said, adding: "They should respond to their actions."

A damning report by state inspectors published on Saturday found that Mediator, launched in 1976 and sold to five million people, should have been banned a decade before it was withdrawn from the market late 2009 – years after it was pulled from Spain and Italy.

Official estimates found that between 500 and 2,000 people died due to exposure to its active ingredient, benfluorex, linked to heart valve damage.

Servier says the estimates do not reflect historical safety reports but that it is willing to look into the matter with the authorities.

Mr Bertrand pledged to speed up safety checks on 76 other medical products on a watchlist and reform drug permit procedures.

He promised to make the public agency in charge of safety and marketing permits, Afssaps, less dependent on wealthy and profit-oriented pharmaceuticals groups for expertise.

The changes would oblige all medical experts to declare any links to drug firms.

Mediator has been described as the worst medical health scandal in France since the so-called "tainted blood" case in which haemophiliac transfusion patients received Aids-tainted blood in the 1990s.

Some 116 alleged victims pressed charges against Servier company last Tuesday for manslaughter and involuntary injury.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for "total transparency" over the case, which is a potentially embarrassing given his close links to Jacques Servier. Mr Sarkozy worked as his lawyer before becoming President and personally awarded him the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest accolade in 2008.

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