PARIS Feb 2 Investigators searched the
offices of French healthcare regulator Afssaps on Thursday in
connection with a case involving the anti-diabetes drug
Mediator, which officials blame for at least 500 deaths in
Judicial sources said that investigators also searched the
homes of several executives of Afssaps, which is under scrutiny
for allowing the sale of Mediator long after it had been pulled
from the market elsewhere.
Public concern about the agency has been increased by the
scandal over breast implants manufactured by the now-bankrupt
French company PIP.
"This important operation took place in the presence of the
judges in charge of the case, the public prosecutors and 25
investigators," a judicial source told Reuters of Thursday's
Jacques Servier, the founder of Servier Laboratories which
produced Mediator, is being investigated on suspicion of
dishonest practices, deception over the drug's quality, and of
falsely obtaining authorisation to sell it.
A trial is expected in May.
Mediator - mostly prescribed by doctors as a weight-loss
pill - was sold to as many as 5 million people in France between
1976 and November 2009, when it was withdrawn, years after being
pulled in Spain and Italy. State health inspectors have said the
drug should have been retired in France a decade earlier.
According to the French health ministry, at least 500 people
died of heart valve trouble in France because of exposure to
Mediator's active ingredient, benfluorex. Other estimates based
on extrapolations put the death toll closer to 2,000.
Servier denies having misled authorities and patients. The
company recognises 38 deaths linked to the drug, but says only
four of these were caused by it.
The Mediator scandal - which has already prompted the
resignation of the head of Afssaps - is France's worst in years.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to shake up the
healthcare system and make it more transparent in response to a
slew of lawsuits filed by groups of victims' families.
Servier, 89, was awarded France's national merit medal, the
Legion d'Honneur, by Sarkozy - who was once his lawyer - less
than a year before the drug was pulled.
(For a special report on the PIP scandal click )
(Reporting by Gerard Bon; writing by Daniel Flynn)