French prosecutor wants drug boss jailed over weight loss pills deaths

French prosecutors on Tuesday called for a drug company boss to be jailed over a diabetes and weight loss pill blamed for hundreds of deaths, in one of the country’s worst health scandals.

The drug Mediator was on the market for 33 years and used by about five million people before being pulled in 2009 over concerns it could cause serious heart problems — more than a decade after concerns had first been raised.

Prosecutors said Jean-Philippe Seta — who was number two at drug firm Servier — should be jailed for five years for his role in the scandal and his firm should face fines of 8.2 million euros ($9.3 million) for fraudulently concealing the drug’s risks.

Seta and Servier deny the allegations and have maintained that they did not know the drug was dangerous until 2009. By then it had already been outlawed in the United States, Spain and Italy. 

The national medicines watchdog (ANSM) is also on trial, with prosecutor Aude Le Guilcher saying it failed in its mission and should be fined 200,000 euros.

Victims have submitted nearly 10,500 claims for compensation from Servier totalling more than one billion euros, and many have accepted payment in return for not taking part in criminal proceedings.

About 500 people are thought to have died as a result of the drug though experts say it may eventually cause as many as 2,100 deaths.

Servier “deliberately made the cynical choice not to take into account the risks”, said Le Guilcher, adding that the firm “made the grim bet that these risks would be minimal in terms of patients affected”.

She told the judge: “Your judgment, by the red lines that it will draw, must contribute to restoring the confidence betrayed by a firm that put its financial interests before the interest of patients.”

Alongside Seta, 11 others are on trial, including doctors who were members of the medicine watchdog, pharma company consultants and former senator Marie-Therese Hermange who produced a report said to be favourable to Servier. 

In 2015, a civil court found Servier negligent for having left “defective” medicine on the market.

The trial, which began last September, is set to conclude in July with a verdict expected next year.