Jacques Servier was the founder of France’s second-largest pharmaceutical group, Laboratoires Servier, who became ensnared in a scandal over a diabetes drug widely used for weight loss. Servier and his lab were at the centre of one of France’s biggest health scandals, in which the drug Mediator was alleged to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people.
The European Medicines Agency pulled Mediator from shelves when it discovered that its active ingredient, benfluorex, could lead to a dangerous thickening of heart valves. The ingredient is a derivative of fenfluramine, whose use in a diet drug in the US had been linked to similar problems.
In a statement, Laboratoires Servier said their founder’s life “revolved around the research of innovative medicines.” But in recent years, Servier was best known for the troubles with Mediator, and his frail appearance last year in a French court room did little to win him sympathy in the case.
“The victims must be reassured: The death of Jacques Servier will delay but not bring an end to justice,” said Irene Frachon, the physician who was among the first to uncover problems linked to the drug.
In the case against Servier and his lab, the court claimed the nature of benfluorex was hidden to obtain approval for the drug, first marketed in 1976 and taken by more than 5 million people. It was alleged that the drug, which was often prescribed as a hunger suppressant, was behind the deaths of between 500 and 2,000 people over more than three decades.
Jacques Servier, doctor and businessman: born Vatan, France 9 February 1922; died 16 April 2014.