Pharma giant Sanofi charged with manslaughter in birth defects case

French laboratory Sanofi is indicted for “involuntary homicides” over the devastating effects of the anti-epileptic drug valproate (Depakine). (FIle/AFP)
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Updated 03 August 2020

Pharma giant Sanofi charged with manslaughter in birth defects case

  • Studies say a Sanofi drug has caused disabilities in about 15,000-30,000 children whose mothers took the medicine while pregnant
  • On the market since 1967, the drug is used to treat epilepsy, migraines and bipolar disorder

PARIS: French prosecutors have indicted pharma giant Sanofi for manslaughter over birth defects linked to an epilepsy drug, the company said Monday, in a long-running case that has also seen it charged with fraud.
The charges relate to the drug valproate, marketed as Depakine among other trade names, which studies say has caused disabilities in about 15,000-30,000 children whose mothers took the medicine while pregnant.
On the market since 1967, the drug is used to treat epilepsy, migraines and bipolar disorder.
But research found that when pregnant women took the drug, their children had an elevated risk — between 10 to 40 percent — of congenital malformations, autism and learning difficulties.
Sanofi is facing separate charges of aggravated fraud and unintentionally causing injury in 42 cases filed by families, but insists it had warned health authorities of the drug’s risks already in the 1980s.
On Monday, the company confirmed a report in Le Monde newspaper that prosecutors have now also charged it with manslaughter.
But in a statement sent to AFP it insisted it had “fulfilled its obligation” of providing information on the drug and its side-effects, and said it “contests the validity of these proceedings.”
Sanofi said it has filed a legal challenge to the indictment.
Under the French legal system, charges do not automatically result in a trial as prosecutors can decide not to proceed based on a lack of evidence.
Last month, a French court ordered the state to pay thousands of euros in damages over the scandal, saying officials should have ensured the drug was not taken by pregnant women.
The court found that health officials knew about the risk of birth defects from Depakine already in 1983, and of learning disabilities and autism from 2004.
Another 500 complaints have been lodged with France’s national compensation agency for medical accidents, which has already proposed a 6.5-million-euro ($7.6-million) package for Depakine victims.
Sanofi, a France-based multinational, is working on a candidate vaccine against the novel coronavirus with Britain’s GSK, for which it will receive up to $2.1 billion from the US government.


Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

Updated 22 September 2020

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

  • Service attracts more than 10,000 subscribers since July

KUALA LUMPUR: Netflix could soon have competition from a homegrown entertainment platform in Malaysia which, its makers say, will cater to Muslims’ “halal TV” needs based on Islamic values.

Dubbed “Nurflix,” the platform is Malaysia’s first Shariah-compliant streaming service and has attracted more than 10,000 subscribers since July.

Nurflix is the creation of Syah Rizal Mohamed, who wants to produce and release original content for the platform before its official launch in January.

“We spent $9.7 million for the startup, but the company will produce 1,000 (items of) original content in multiple categories like mainstream, educational, spiritual and motivational and kids, with about 12,000 episodes in the first five years of operating,” the 43-year-old CEO told Arab News.

He also plans for Nurflix to acquire content from local and international producers, as long as they align with the service’s production guidelines, with a focus on markets in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore before setting up internationally.

“We see ourselves covering the Southeast Asian region in the next five years with our readiness to establish hubs in the Middle East and Europe to gain traction in the international market.”

He said the decision to tap into the streaming service market was driven by the rapid growth of video-on-demand media and consumers choosing this, as well as over-the-top subscription services, as their main form of entertainment. 

Consumers agreed that there was a market for a halal content platform.

“The Islamic streaming service just enriches the Islamic entertainment ecosystem because there is a niche for it,” 25-year-old public relations executive Puteri N. Balqis told Arab News.

Media consultant Amir Hadi Azmi said a Shariah-compliant streaming service was an interesting niche, particularly for more conservative users, but that the concept was not unique to Islam or Muslims.

“In America, for example, there is a service called Pure Flix which caters to more conservative Christian viewers,” he told Arab News.

Amir Muhammad, managing director of Kuman Pictures, said that as a producer, the more outlets that were made available to content producers and filmmakers, the better. Kuman Pictures, which is known for releasing horror and thriller content, could create appropriate content if need be.

“I have not seen their actual guidelines, but if they want halal horror, we will give them halal horror,” he told Arab News.

The Nurflix CEO said there would be a Content Advisory Council and that it would be headed and supervised by Habib Ali Zaenal Abidin Al Hamid and the Honorable Ustaz Raja Ahmad Mukhlis.

“Productions, including third-party content providers, will be monitored by the council to ensure the end product abides by the set guidelines. Nurflix is unique in the market because it is not just offering Islamic-guided content. The production will be monitored by the council to ensure all aspects of work are conducted in a Shariah-compliant manner.”

Although there is no formal collaboration with the Islamic Affairs Department, he said that Nurflix’s ideas and concepts had already been shared with Islamic Affairs Minister Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.

When contacted by Arab News, the director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development Paimuzi Yahya said his department was still working on “collaborating with the streaming service” and declined to comment further.