A new trial in the saga of the Mediator ‘slimming’ medicine scandal began this week (January 9), as the drug manufacturers seek to appeal convictions of aggravated deception and manslaughter.
The trial opens almost two years after the lab Servier was ordered to pay €2.7million in fines for “aggravated deception”. Mediator, also known as Benflorex, was also found to be linked to hundreds of deaths.
Mediator, an amphetamine derivative, came onto the market in 1976 as a treatment for diabetes, but became used as an appetite suppressant in healthy people, especially women. It was accused of causing major heart and lung problems and later linked to hundreds of deaths.
It was never authorised in the UK and other countries, including Spain and Italy, refused to licence it.
Servier has always denied knowingly misleading patients and doctors.
More than 7,500 civil parties involved
The new trial is expected to last six months, and is taking place in the Palais de Justice in Paris, which hosted the trials in the cases of the November 13 terrorism attacks, and that which took place in Nice in July 2016.
Around 100 witnesses will be called to testify again, including 60 at Servier’s request.
More than 7,500 civil parties are set to be involved, and an online radio will be set up to enable everyone involved to follow proceedings, the public prosecutor said.
Many plaintiffs are hoping to receive compensation for the damage caused to them by the alleged "aggravated deception". Around 100 plaintiffs are seeking compensation in connection with the charges of "manslaughter and involuntary injury".
‘Starting from zero’
Lawyer Jean-Christophe Coubris, representing 2,500 civil parties, said: “We’re starting almost from zero all over again.”
He said that he is hoping that the new case will “confirm the condemnation” found in the original ruling, and “obtain, at minimum, compensation to the same level” for the victims. Many say that their health has worsened as a result of the drug.
In March 2021, Servier and its former second-in-command, Jean-Philippe Seta, were found guilty of aggravated deception and manslaughter. This was after a nine-month trial, which was only interrupted due to Covid.
Read more: Mediator drug trial begins in France
The correctional court in Paris found that “from 1995, they had enough information to be aware of the risk of fatalities” linked to Mediator. The pharmaceutical lab appealed against the overall judgement.
Medical safety agency, l'Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament (Ansm), formerly known as Afssaps, did not appeal against the €303,000 fine it was given for its part in delaying the suspension of the drug from the market, despite its alleged toxicity.
Mediator was found to have been prescribed to five million people in France before it was finally suspended from the market in 2009.
Read more: Watchdog accused over drug deaths
‘Deliberate misleading’ denied
A lawyer for the defence, François De Castro, said: "The Servier laboratories and Mr Seta still contest having deliberately misled patients and doctors about the danger of Mediator.”
Yet, Charles Joseph-Oudin, lawyer for 1,200 plaintiffs, responded: "These arguments, which were rejected by the court in the first instance, remain today the line of defence of the laboratories, which questions the way in which they received the judgement and drew lessons from it.”
Mr Coubris, lawyer for 2,500 plaintiffs, said: "From the first day of the marketing of this drug, [the lab and Mr Seta] were perfectly aware of the serious side effects" that it could cause.”
Whistleblower: ‘Confidence lost in courts’
Lung specialist Dr Irène Frachon, from the Brest-Carhaix hospital (Finistère), is also set to appear as a witness. She was the whistleblower who revealed the health scandal to the wider public.
However, she told La Dépêche that she has "lost confidence in the ability of the courts to condemn this type of offence, in a manner commensurate with the seriousness of the offences committed".
The sentences issued so far have been “modest”, and the court’s decisions so far have been “a missed opportunity to send a strong signal" to drug manufacturers who do not respect the rules, she said.
The Connexion interviewed Dr Frachon in 2017:
Film for French doctor who blew whistle on fatal slimming pill scandal
Dr Frachon believes that "the Mediator case is exceptionally clear-cut", with many documents establishing responsibilities, she said.
Dr Frachon has also published a comic book retracing the scandal, called Mediator, un crime chimiquement pur (A chemically pure crime), released by Delcourt on January 4. A film was also made about the scandal.
In a statement ahead of this week’s new trial, Servier said it was choosing “not to communicate before the opening" so as to "let the justice system carry out its work calmly".
The lab has already paid out more than €100million in compensation in connection with the drug.
French pharma firm found guilty over diet pill linked to 2,000 deaths