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French minister pledges reform over diabetes drug scandal

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France’s health minister vowed Sunday to rebuild a more transparent health care system following a scandal over a diabetes drug that was linked to more than 500 deaths.

Xavier Bertrand told French radio Europe 1 that he wished “to be heard as soon as possible” by the parliamentary panels looking into the drug Mediator in order to “debate proposals to rebuild the health care system”.

France’s biggest health scandal in years, the drug was banned in France, where millions of people took it, after being linked to heart valve damage. It is also banned in the United States, Spain and Italy.

The drug for overweight people with diabetes was also widely prescribed to others as an appetite-suppressant. It was first sold in 1976 and was linked to the deaths of 500 to 2,000 people over three decades.

The pharmaceutical company Servier that sold Mediator “had primary and direct responsibility,” Bertrand said, adding: “They should respond to their actions.”

The health minister is pushing to create a new system to control drugs that will be more independent of the pharmaceutical industry.

He insisted on the need to publish a list of 76 drugs that are currently being monitored, “even if they are not all dangerous”.

The public agency in charge of health products safety needs to inform him of “the necessary steps that could lead to a withdrawal of certain (drugs) from the market”, he added.

Servier last week conceded that Mediator was a “true risk”. In November it had said that 500 deaths represented a tiny risk compared to the number of people who took the drug.

Scores of alleged victims pressed charges against the drug company on Tuesday at a Paris court.

Paris, Jan 16, 2011 (AFP)