France: Trial Starts Over Diabetes Drug that 'Killed Hundreds'

France's largest pharmaceutical company went on trial Monday on suspicion that their weight-loss drug has caused up to 2,000 deaths and lifelong consequences for many other patients, the Guardian reported.

heart-attack(Illustration by mohamed_hassan)Servier, the most powerful private-owned laboratory, allegedly covered up the side effects that the widely prescribed pill Mediator caused in patients.

Les Laboratoires Servier, the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines (ANSM) and 21 other defendants will face 2,684 plaintiffs for "involuntary homicides and injuries" and "aggravated deceit" and for not taking certain and necessary measures to control the drug.

The defendants are Sevier’s employees as well as several members of the ANSM who are implicated for their ties to the pharmaceutical company.

The Mediator or Benfluorex was intended for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but doctors also prescribed the drug to people who wanted to lose a few pounds. Also, the pill is often used to prevent people from gaining weight.

Experts say the drug caused high blood pressure in the heart vessels that supply the lungs with blood. As a result, heart complications would occur and the patient's heart would fail or a heart attack would occur.

‘’Benfluorex in diabetic patients was significantly associated with hospitalization for valvular heart disease in the 2 years following benfluorex exposure,’’ the research from 2010 states.

The drug caused the largest ever health scandal in the country, after health experts said it could have killed between 500 and 2,000 people while on the market.

The drug was withdrawn in 2009, and it is estimated that more than 5 million people have been exposed to it since its launch in 1976.

In 2007, lung specialist Irène Frachon warned about the link between Mediator and heart damage which she wiped out after she noted the same symptoms in more patients.

After that, the movie “150 milligrams’’ was filmed based on Franchon’s story.

The film depicts Dr. Frachon's fight against a pharmaceutical company that, by covering the side effects of its drug, endangers the lives of hundreds of people.

"What matters is to care for those who are weaker than us or those who suffer," she said.

One of the victims talked about how the medication affected her life. ‘’I had a normal life, now I live part-time. I can do something in the morning but nothing in the afternoon ’’ she said.

“The trial comes as a huge relief. Finally, we are to see the end of an intolerable scandal,” Frachon said after Monday trial.

Charles Joseph-Oudin, a lawyer representing 250 plaintiffs said that Servier lied and “concealed media tours dangerous properties.’’

Servier denied the charges saying it did not lie about the side effects.

“That accusation is intolerable for the pharmaceutical company. The idea that they knew the risks of this drug and that they knowingly delivered to patients is inconceivable,’’ Francois De Castro, Servier’s lawyer, said.

Servier has said it will continue to compensate victims and has paid almost €132 million (US$145 milion) to patients.

“Of the 1,031 claims by patients registered at the court, 237 cases named Mediator as being responsible. So far, 3,542 patients have received an offer of compensation,’’ Servier stated in a press release.

The seven-month-trial for 91 victims will establish if the medication caused the deaths but also why it was on the market for so long.