French pharma boss singled out in Mediator probe

A major health scandal in France has ensnared a pharma bigwig. Jacques Servier, head one of the largest drugmakers in France, Servier Laboratories, made a first court appearance yesterday in connection with an investigation of alleged misdeeds regarding a diabetes pill linked with hundreds deaths, Reuters reports.

The scandal surrounding the drug, Mediator, which is suspected of causing heart problems, has drawn the ire of the French public and tarred reputations in high places. The drug was only pulled from the market in France in 2009, Reuters reports, years after Italy and Spain took it off shelves. And the drug was sold to some 5 million people (often as a weight-loss pill) during a 33-year market run that health officials say was way too long.

Authorities are investigating Servier, the 89-year-old founder and president of the French drugmaker, for alleged dishonest deeds, deceiving stakeholders about the quality of the drug, and for the suspicious means by which the drug gained market clearance, his lawyer told Reuters. Five of Servier's subunits are under investigation as well. The news service also points out that French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a former attorney for Servier, awarded the company's patriarch France's national merit award, just months before its disgraced drug was yanked from the market there. Amid public anger over and lawsuits linked to the health scandal, Sarkozy is now calling for greater transparency in the healthcare system.

The scandal has already prompted the resignation of the public health chief in France, where the government shelled out more than $500 million on reimbursements for the drug during a 10-year stretch when other countries took it off the market.

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