Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Servier Chief Steps Down from G5 Presidency

Well, he couldn't exactly remain the figurehead at the top of France's cosy little posse of pharmaceutical firms, the G5, could he? Indeed, Jacques Servier, head of the family-owned firm that has been in the spotlight for months over its now-withdrawn diabetes drug Mediator, was among the founders of this nationalist group, which has colluded since 2004 to the drug sector in France and ensure its competitiveness on the global stage.

Jacques Servier has resigned his position as G5 president, the group declared in a release today, "in order to devote his time to defending the interests of his firm during the current period" (rough translation). There's a bit to defend, certainly: Servier faces over 100 lawsuits from alleged victims of its tarnished drug (generic name: benfluorex), and the full wrath of the country's media, whose efforts have helped escalate the affair right up to the President de la Republique, Nicolas Sarkozy.

On Jan. 19, Servier was booted out of industry association LEEM, too; likewise so the agency can pursue 'serenely' its discussions with public bodies and to allow Servier to 'freely' organize its defense.

Of course, Servier's resignation as G5 president doesn't come close, in price-to-pay terms, to that of poor old Jean Marimbert, head of the country's regulator, AFSSAPS. He has become the most prominent (indeed, so far, the only) scapegoat in this somewhat sordid affair. Not the right scapegoat, either, say some.

But while Servier devotes his time to defending Servier (not an apology in earshot), the G5 -- of which Servier remains a member -- is staunchly supportive of the Mediator-triggered proposals (some emanating from Marimbert himself) for increased transparency within France's drug regulatory process. "In particular, we fully approve of the idea of publishing the list of links between experts and drug firms, as well as any payments made" between the two, says the statement.

The irony of this statement, not really diluted by the fact of Servier's resignation, becomes apparent when reading through French media reports of goings-on within the French firm, not least the accusation that it doctored some of the clinical assessments of Mediator's risk-profile. And accusations of all-too-cosy relationships between doctors, drug firms and politicians. Yup, you remember rightly, Sarkozy decorated Jacques Servier with the highly esteemed Legion d'Honneur in...2009, the same year Mediator was withdrawn.

Ok, so France isn't the only place where this seedy stuff happens. It's just that this 'French scandal', as the national media calls it, has drawn a big bright spotlight onto the country's back-room wranglings, regulators and pharmaco-vigilance processes.

The light may yet draw out some more suspicious goings-on from the shadows; equally (if not more important) will be the impact on the country's already tight pharmacovigilance processes.

Meanwhile, Ipsen's new CEO Marc de Garidel takes up the mantel of G5 presidency, with Pierre Fabre's Olivier Bohuon stepping in as spokesman. These appointments, the group declares, will allow the association to pursue its activities...including those focused on 'le rayonnement international de la France'. That's France's influence, prestige...literally, its radiance.

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