Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A00039 - Jacques Servier, Pharmaceutical Company Founder

Jacques Servier in court to face charges involving the drug Mediator, which was withdrawn from the market amid estimates that it had caused between 500 and 2,000 deaths. CreditYoan Valat/European Pressphoto Agency
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PARIS — Jacques Servier, who created one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in France but whose life’s work was overshadowed by allegations that he concealed the dangers of drugs that he helped develop, died on Wednesday at his home in a suburb of Paris. He was 92.
His death was confirmed by Lucy Vincent, a spokeswoman for his company, Laboratoires Servier.
Dr. Servier, who had studied medicine and pharmacology, founded his company in 1954 with a handful of employees and built it into a global drug maker, with 17,000 workers and sales in 2013 of about $5.8 billion. Last year Forbes estimated his personal worth at $7.6 billion.
Laboratoires Servier was hailed by generations of French leaders as an export champion and an exemplar of French technological and scientific prowess. All the while, Dr. Servier, who remained president of the company until his death, guarded his independence, refusing to take his company public and devoting profits to research and development at a rate well above the industry norm.
President Nicolas Sarkozy awarded Dr. Servier the Legion of Honor’s Grand Cross in 2009, describing him as “an entrepreneur the likes of which few are to be found in France.” Mr. Sarkozy had been Mr. Servier’s lawyer before taking office.
But Dr. Servier soon became the object of severe criticism, when the company’s diabetes drug, Mediator, was withdrawn from the market in the face of estimates that it had caused 500 to 2,000 deaths.
During the 33 years it was on the market, Mediator, also known as benfluorex, was prescribed to an estimated five million French patients. While it was marketed as a treatment for diabetes, the company promoted it to doctors as a weight-loss aid. Studies linked the drug to cardiac valve damage and pulmonary hypertension, and Dr. Servier and his company were accused of having concealed evidence of its dangers.
Laboratoires Servier was also responsible for the development of a related drug, fenfluramine, one of the two drugs at the heart of the so-called fen-phen diet drug scandal of the 1990s.
In the United States, millions of people took fen-phen until 1997, when a Mayo Clinic researcher found a possible link between the therapy and heart valve disease. Wyeth, which held the American license for fen-phen, set aside $21 billion to settle lawsuits.
In December 2012, a French court brought manslaughter and injury chargesagainst Dr. Servier and six companies belonging to his pharmaceutical group. Dr. Servier and the company argued that they were innocent, saying the evidence for Mediator’s dangers had become apparent only with more recent medical advances.
One investigation remains underway, said Ms. Vincent, the company spokeswoman, and a trial is expected to take place next year.
The case reverberated throughout France, leading to a government inquiry and ultimately an overhaul of the French medical regulatory system, amid revelations that officials had stood by in the face of mounting evidence of the dangers of Mediator.
Jacques Paul Servier was born on Feb. 9, 1922, in Vatan, in central France. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father was a pharmacist. He is survived by his second wife and three daughters.
Laboratoires Servier will continue to operate under the guidance of a foundation established by Dr. Servier, Ms. Vincent said.

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