Mediator, France’s biggest modern health scandal, explained

Updated on Mar 30, 2021 10:07 AM IST

The company Servier was accused of prioritising profits over the lives of patients. Jacques Servier, the company's CEO and founder, was indicted early in the trial but died in 2014.

Drug Mediator said to be a medicine for diabetes and weight loss is pictured. (AFP)
Drug Mediator said to be a medicine for diabetes and weight loss is pictured. (AFP)
By | Edited by Mallika Soni, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A Paris court on Monday found pharmaceutical giant Servier guilty in a case which involved Mediator, said to be a medicine for diabetes and weight loss. The case is one of the biggest health scandals in France and involved thousands of plaintiffs ever since the trial opened in September 2019. With nearly 400 lawyers and thousands of defendants taking part in the trial, it was spread across five rooms in the Paris courthouse.

The company Servier, which is headquartered in a Paris suburb and employs nearly 22,000 people worldwide, generated around 4.6 billion euros in revenue in 2020. It was accused of prioritising profits over the lives of patients. Jacques Servier, the company's CEO and founder, was indicted early in the trial but died in 2014.

What happened in the scandal?

The Mediator drug which is at the heart of the scandal was in the market for 33 years and is said to have been used by around 5 million people, according to a study in 2010. Originally a medication for diabetes, the drug was also widely prescribed for reducing weight as it was considered an appetite suppressant. The drug is suspected to have caused 1,000-2,000 deaths as doctors linked it to heart and lung problems.

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When were the first concerns raised?

In France, the drug was flagged as early as 1998 by a doctor. Servier also faced questions about the side effects of the drug from the medical authorities in Switzerland, Spain and Italy which led to the company withdrawing the drug in those markets between 1997 and 2004. In France, which was the main market of the drug, the company suspended sales in 2009; 10 years after the first cases came to light. This was prompted by an independent investigation into the side effects of the drug.

French doctor Irene Frachon talks to journalists after the verdict in the trial of the Mediator drug case in Paris, France.(Reuters)
French doctor Irene Frachon talks to journalists after the verdict in the trial of the Mediator drug case in Paris, France.(Reuters)

What happened in the trial?

Servier was accused of manslaughter, involuntary injury, fraud and influence trading in the trial along with colluding with the national medicines agency and hiding the dangers of the drug. Although, lawyers for Servier argued that the company was not aware of the risks that Mediator posed before 2009. The company also reiterated that it never said that Mediator could be used as an appetite suppressant.

What did the court rule?

The court found Servier guilty of “aggravated fraud” and “involuntary manslaughter” and fined the company €2.7 million (approximately $3.2 million) over the scandal. France’s medicines regulator ANSM (L’Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé) was also fined €303,000 (approximately $356,000) and the company’s former deputy boss, Jean-Philippe Seta, was handed a prison sentence of four years.

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