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OBESITY

French firm guilty over deadly weight-loss drug

UPDATED: Eight years after a scandal erupted over a diabetes drug linked to hundreds of deaths, a French court on Thursday found pharmaceutical firm Servier responsible of having left a "defective" drug on the market.

French firm guilty over deadly weight-loss drug
Photo: AFP
The health scandal came to light in 2007 when doctor Irene Frachon raised the alert on heart risks linked to the Mediator drug, which was destined for overweight people with diabetes but was also widely prescribed to others as an appetite-suppressant.
   
The drug, which may have been linked to up to 2,100 deaths, was later banned in France where millions of people took it. It is also banned in the United States, Spain and Italy.
   
Two patients aged 72 and 67 sued the company, asking for €900,000 and €125,000 ($1 million and $140,000) respectively in damages for the after-effects they say they suffered after taking Mediator.
   
The court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre found that at the time the medicine was prescribed to the two claimants in 2003 and 2006, “the state of scientific knowledge meant the risks of pulmonary hypertension” and heart valve damage “could not be ignored”.
   
“The mere suspicion of such risks” should have forced the French company “to inform patients and health professionals,” particularly in the instructions packaged with the drugs.
   
Charles Joseph-Oudin, the lawyer for one of the victims, welcomed the decision as a “victory” — the first time that a court has found Servier responsible in the scandal.
   
But he said his client only got €30,000 of the €900,000 claimed, and that he would therefore appeal.
   
Servier argues that until 2009 when Mediator was withdrawn from the market, health authorities had not issued any “significant warnings” regarding the drug.
   
Known by its lab name as benfluorex, Mediator was initially licensed to reduce levels of fatty proteins called lipids, with the claim that it helped diabetics control their level of blood sugar.
   
But it also suppressed appetite, which meant it gained a secondary official use to help obese diabetics lose weight.
   
In the end, it was widely sold on prescription for even non-diabetics who wanted to slim down.
   
Servier says it has put aside €70 million in damages for all the victims, on top of some €14 million it has already paid out to patients.
   
But associations helping victims say the figure is far too low in light of the number of patients and the costly medical examinations and operations they have incurred.

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OBESITY

US giant Coca-Cola ‘paid €8m to influence French health researchers’

US beverage giant Coca-Cola paid more than €8 million in France to health professionals and researchers in a bid to influence research,according to an investigation by French newspaper Le Monde published on Thursday.

US giant Coca-Cola 'paid €8m to influence French health researchers'
Obesity is on the rise in France. Photo:AFP

The newspaper said the aim of the funds was to have research published that would divert attention away from the detrimental effect of sugary drinks on health.

Le Monde, in its front page story, said Coca-Cola paid more than “€8 million to experts, various medical organisations and also sporting and event organisations.”

It said in France, as elsewhere, the financing fell under communication or sponsorship and not as authentic scientific work.

Coca-Cola has been under a similar spotlight before, after the New York Times in 2015 reported that the company gave financial backing to scientists who argued that having more exercise is more important to avoiding obesity than cutting calories.

In the outcry that followed that report, the firm promised to improve transparency and publish on its site the names of experts and activities it finances in the United States.

It did the same for France in 2016 following pressure from the NGO Foodwatch and it is this data that has been intensely analysed by Le Monde.

Le Monde said that as in the US, the company's financing is aimed at “making people forget the risks that come with consuming its drinks”.

In a separate report, the Journal of Public Health Policy said Coca-Cola added multiple clauses to ensuring the research it funds produces the desired result.

These include preventing results that displease the company being published by reserving the right to break contracts without giving a reason.

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