“Researchers who criticised the drug recalled receiving anonymous threats, incuding parcels containing miniature coffins, but no direct link with Servier was established.”
French politicians of both the right and left are facing severe embarrassment and legal recriminations with the forthcoming publication of an official report on what could become the worst health scandal in the country’s history.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised “the most complete transparency” on how a drug which is now suspected to have killed up to 2,000 people was officially approved, and subsidised, for 33 years by the French health service.
Despite repeated warnings from scientists in France and abroad, the Mediator drug was prescribed to 5,000,000 French people, originally to fight diabetes and later as an appetite-suppressing, slimming pill. A report from the French health inspectorate, due in mid-January, will investigate why successive French health ministers, of the left and right, failed to heed advice that the drug – produced by the French pharmaceutical giant, Servier – was at best useless, and at worst highly dangerous.
Separate French press investigations have focused on an alleged campaign of intimidation and disinformation by the Servier company to keep the drug – and a lucrative predecessor, eventually banned in the US in 1997 – on the market.
Servier, the second largest French drugs company, founded 50 years ago by Jacques Servier, 88, a French doctor, is known for its cult of secrecy and its excellent relations with French politicians. President Sarkozy himself once worked for the company as a lawyer during his brief legal career, when he was a young man.
Mediator contains a substance called benfluorex, which has been alleged in a series of scientific investigations to attack the cardio-vascular system and, in particular, to damage the valves of the heart. Despite a series of warnings, the drug remained legal – and its use was even officially subsidised by the French health service – until late last year.