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French pharmaceutical firm found guilty of manslaughter over lethal diet pill

The lung specialist Irène Frachon poses with a book depicting portraits of “Mediator victims,” at a courthouse before the start of the Servier trial, in Paris, France, in September 2019. (Photo by AFP)

One of France’s biggest pharmaceutical firms has been convicted of deception and manslaughter over a pill blamed for the deaths of up to 2,000 people.

A Paris court on Monday fined the privately-owned laboratory Servier 2.7 million euros (3.1 million dollars) for its role in one of the biggest medical scandals in France.

Servier was accused of covering up the potentially fatal side-effects of its diabetes drug, Mediator, which was widely prescribed as a diet pill.

“Despite knowing of the risks incurred for many years, … they [at Servier] never took the necessary measures and thus were guilty of deceit,” said the president of the criminal court, Sylvie Daunis.

The company was, however, cleared of fraud charges.

Also on Monday, Servier’s former executive Jean-Philippe Seta received a suspended jail sentence of four years.

The French medicines agency, accused of failing to act quickly enough on warnings about the drug, was also slapped with a fine of 303,000 euros.

The expansive trial, which opened in 2019, involved 21 defendants and more than 6,500 plaintiffs.

The drug remained on the market in France between 1976 and November 2009, when it was pulled. It was used by about five million people.

The pills were withdrawn two years after Irène Frachon, a lung specialist from a Brittany hospital, warned of a link between the drug and serious heart and pulmonary damage.

According to some studies, the drug was linked to the deaths of about 2,000 people. Thousands more have been left with debilitating cardiovascular problems.

The firm has paid out millions in compensation.

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