Tuesday, July 07, 2020

French Pharma and a Deadly Poison

French pharmaceutical company Servier Laboratories is facing millions of euros in potential fines and damages after the company allowed a diabetes drug to be widely and irresponsibly prescribed as a diet pill — with deadly consequences. 

“Patient safety was not at the heart of Servier’s policy,” the prosecutor told the court last week, saying the drug should have been withdrawn in the 1990s. “The firm was only interested in money.”

In the 33 years that Mediator was on the market, it was suspected in 1,000-2,000 deaths among millions who took it as an appetite suppressant, according to a 2010 study. Doctors linked it to heart and lung problems. Servier is accused of manslaughter, involuntary injury, fraud, influence trading and other charges. Investigating magistrates concluded that Servier for decades covered up Mediator’s effects on patients. The national medicines agency is suspected of colluding in masking its dangers,  accused of failing to take adequate measures to protect patients and of being too close to Servier. The agency, since reformed and renamed, is accused of manslaughter by negligence and causing unintentional harm. 

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. But it took an independent investigation by another worried French doctor before the company suspended sales in its main market in France in 2009.

“There are men and women who put a deadly poison on the market,” the whistleblower, Dr. Irene Frachon. She maintains that Servier knew about problems with the drug since 1993. After she spoke out, she said, “One of the drug agency experts said to me, you’re going to pay for this. He wanted to punish me...Servier’s pressure was omnipresent. I become persona non-grata in many scientific events.”


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