PARIS (AP) — A massive trial involving more than 4,000 plaintiffs opened Monday for French pharmaceutical giant Servier Laboratoires and France's medicines watchdog, accused of involuntary manslaughter, fraud and other charges in a scandal over a diabetes medication suspected of causing hundreds of deaths.
Although designed as a diabetes drug, Mediator was widely prescribed as a hunger suppressant to millions of people before sales were suspended in France in 2009. The closely watched trial that opened in Paris is expected to last six months and is one of France's biggest in years.
The trial dossier runs to nearly 700 pages — with around 300 pages taken up by plaintiffs' names. The trial was spread across five rooms, connected by video-link, at the Paris courthouse and nearly 400 lawyers were working the case.
A 2010 study said Mediator was suspected in 1,000-2,000 deaths, with doctors linking it to heart and lung problems.
Investigating magistrates concluded that Servier for decades covered up Mediator's effects on patients. The national medicines agency is suspected of colluding in masking its dangers.
François de Castro, a lawyer for Servier, said the pharmaceutical firm wasn't aware of risks associated with Mediator before 2009 — 33 years after it first went on sale.
Servier is being tried on charges of manslaughter, unintentional wounding, fraud, and deceit about the make-up of Mediator and the risks of taking it.
France's medicines agency, since reformed and renamed, is also accused of manslaughter by negligence and causing unintentional harm.
Also on trial are 12 representatives of the pharma giant and the medicines agency.
"This trial is a victory for the victims," said Dominique-Michel Courtois, head of a Mediator victims group. He said they want answers on how Servier obtained a license to market the drug and how it "hoodwinked the authorities."
Headquartered in a suburb of Paris, Servier employs 22,000 people worldwide and generated 4.1 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in turnover last year.