A French drug maker has been found guilty of aggravated deceit and involuntary manslaughter over a weight loss pill at the centre of a major health scandal.
The drug Mediator was developed for use in overweight diabetics and was on the market for 33 years.
It was eventually withdrawn in 2009 over concerns it could cause serious heart problems.
Hundreds of people are believed to have died as a result of the drug.
Around five million people were prescribed the medicine over the course of three decades, despite various warnings over its side effects.
- French trial on fatal weight-loss drug begins
- France braced for drug scandal report
- France pledges drug system reform
Thousands of plaintiffs were involved in the trial, which began in 2019.
Drug maker Servier had denied any knowledge of Mediator’s side effects but a court on Monday issued it with a fine of €2.7m (£2.3m, $3.2m).
“Although they knew about the risks for many years… they never took the necessary measures,” judge Sylvie Daunis said.
The company’s former deputy chairman, Jean-Philippe Seta, was also given a four-year suspended prison sentence.
France’s medical regulator, meanwhile, was fined more than €300,000 for its role in the scandal. The judge found the body had “seriously failed” in its duties, according to the AFP news agency.
Ahead of Monday’s verdict, French pulmonologist Dr Irène Frachon, who is credited with exposing the drug’s side effects, told AFP that she hoped the ruling would “give us the tools to understand how such deceit could have gone on for so long”.
A number of other European countries, including Italy and Spain, banned Mediator in the early 2000s.
In France, however, it continued to be offered to diabetics and other patients as an appetite suppressant.
One study concluded that 500 deaths could be linked to Mediator between 1976 and 2009. A second one put the figure at 2,000. – BBC
‘Double mutant’ Covid variant
A NEW “double mutant” variant of the coronavirus has been detected from samples collected in India.
Officials are checking if the variant, where two mutations come together in the same virus, may be more infectious or less affected by vaccines.
Some 10,787 samples from 18 Indian states also showed up 771 cases of known variants – 736 of the UK, 34 of the South African and one Brazilian.
Officials say the variants are not linked to a spike in cases in India.
India reported 47,262 cases and 275 deaths on Wednesday – the sharpest daily rise this year.
The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a group of 10 national laboratories under India’s health ministry, carried out genomic sequencing on the latest samples. Genomic sequencing is a testing process to map the entire genetic code of an organism – in this case, the virus.
The genetic code of the virus works like its instruction manual. Mutations in viruses are common but most of them are insignificant and do not cause any change in its ability to transmit or cause serious infection. But some mutations, like the ones in the UK or South Africa variant lineages, can make the virus more infectious and in some cases even deadlier.
Virologist Shahid Jameel explained that a “double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein may increase these risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system”.
The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to penetrate human cells.
The government said that an analysis of the samples collected from India’s western Maharashtra state showed “an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations” compared with December last year.
“Such [double] mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Dr Jameel added that “there may be a separate lineage developing in India with the L452R and E484Q mutations coming together”.
Are double mutants a worry?
Mutations in the spike gene can make the virus inherently “better” at infecting people or can help the virus to escape neutralising antibodies.
This means if the virus mutates in the “right way”, it can reinfect someone who has already recovered from Covid-19.
But scientists say reinfections will be very mild compared to primary infections in people who are vaccinated or who recovered already from an earlier case of Covid-19.
But if the virus can use reinfection to spread, then it would be “penetrating” herd immunity, says Dr Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport. (Herd immunity happens when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease through vaccination or through the mass spread of the disease.) – BBC