The case against Servier, the pharmaceutical company that produced the drug, was brought by 2,600 plaintiffs and involves hundreds of lawyers. It is suggested that the drug Mediator allegedly causes serious heart damage, and may be linked to the deaths of up to 2,100 people.
The case has resumed in Paris (Ile-de-France), with physical distancing measures in place.
Drug prescribed as a hunger suppressant
Mediator was originally presented as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes, but was also prescribed as a general weight-loss treatment, in the form of a hunger suppressant.
The drug was in circulation for 33 years and was used to treat over five million people before it was taken off the French market in 2009, amid fears it had caused serious heart damage and numerous deaths.
Servier is accused of knowingly concealing the dangerous side-effects of the drug, with charges in court including “serious fraud”, and “involuntary homicide and injury".
The group denies these accusations. On Monday, Servier president Olivier Laureau attended court, and on behalf of the company expressed his “extremely sincere and deep” regret over the deaths caused.
He said: “We committed an analytical error in calculating the risk of Mediator…What happened is the opposite of our reason for existing as a company.”
However, lawyers claim Servier made at least €1billion from the drug while knowing how dangerous it could be for those who took it.
France’s medicine regulator l’Agence National de Sécurité du Medicament (ANSM) is being tried alongside Servier for failing to remove Mediator from the market sooner, despite concerns over the risk posed by the drug.
French doctor who exposed Mediator speaks out
In an interview with Connexion, the French doctor who exposed Mediator, Emmanuelle Bercot, said: “As a young doctor, I was truly shocked at how difficult it was to get the drug banned when I could see how ill people were as a result of taking it, but in 1997 it was withdrawn worldwide.
“The drug was sold under the name Redux in the United States; and there, the victims were awarded millions of dollars in compensation. There was nothing for people in France.”
Ten years later, she came across the drug, under a different name, still causing serious illness in patients in France. After much research, she had enough proof to take her findings to ANSM. “But they didn’t believe me," she said.
“It was very difficult because I was heavily criticised for my actions and it took nearly a year to persuade the agency that Mediator should be withdrawn.”
As she did not feel patients who had taken Mediator were given enough information about potential side effects, Dr Bercot also wrote a book to raise awareness of the dangers of the drug, which was initially banned after Servier took her to court.
The current trial is expected to last until July 6, with a verdict due in 2021.