Revealed: how bosses of French medicines regulators secretly advised drugs companies

By and Pascale Pascariello

The French prosecution services have been asked to launch a probe after an investigation by Mediapart revealed that medical experts in charge of key medicines regulation bodies were secretly moonlighting as consultants for pharmaceutical firms. France’s health minister Marisol Touraine has also ordered an inquiry. The investigation by this website shows how this tight-knit network of friends, all senior medical personnel, sat on committees that approved medicines as safe and, crucially, recommended which new medicines should have their costs refunded by the state-backed health insurance system. At the same time they were receiving cash payments or gifts for secretly advising pharmaceutical firms on how to present those very same new products to the authorities. These clandestine meetings cost the drugs companies up to 60,000 euros a time. Some of the medical officials have admitted their involvement but say there was no conflict of interest, others have denied the claims. There are also allegations that some medical experts even solicited large sums in return for agreeing to favour a drug's application. Michaël Hajdenberg and Pascale Pascariello report on an affair that raises serious questions about the moral integrity of the French health system.

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Senior figures in the French medical sector sat on regulatory bodies that approved the use of new medicines while secretly advising the drugs companies who made them on how best to present their products, Mediapart can reveal. The affair involves a tight-knot circle of friends who, for 20 years, presided over key committees that advised not just on the safety of medicines but, crucially, also on whether their use should be subsidised by France's state-backed health insurance system. For the drugs companies the financial stakes were huge, and Mediapart has learnt that the senior officials were paid in cash for their secret consultancy role. The pharmaceutical firms are said to have paid out up to 60,000 euros for each clandestine meeting. The affair raises serious issues about the ethics of the senior medical personnel involved and their potential conflicts of interest. It also raises wider questions about the financial probity of France's health system itself.