Health minister visits Bial drug company in wake of French trial disaster

Billed as a way of showing government confidence that “one lamentable episode” does not tarnish the reputation of a strategic company within Portugal’s health cluster – in spite the fact that a previously healthy person died – health minister Adalberto Campos Fernandes has scheduled a visit to Bial, the drugs company at the centre of the worst Phase 1 trial disaster in French medical history.

“We are going to meet with the administrative council of Bial and learn the company’s point of view on the evolution of the cases, the impacts of which, in spite of everything, appear to have reduced,” he told reporters.

Indeed, the five volunteers reported to be in serious condition in hospital in Rennes, have all now been discharged – although the “permanent damage” three are believed to have sustained has not been further described.

Investigations remain in place to find out what went wrong, and Bial’s research into the new molecule involved in the trial has been suspended.

“We have been in touch with the French authorities, on both a governmental and regulatory level,” Campos Fernandes continued, stressing “a sad and serious case cannot be allowed to compromise the strategic benefit that this company represents” for Portugal.

He added that Portugal “needs businesses like Bial … in order to be positive… and to show that with intelligence the country can be different, less depressive, less sad and less pessimistic”.

It was perhaps an odd choice of words, considering the Phase 1 trial in question had been testing a drug aimed at controlling centres of the brain responsible for changes in humour.

But what has been even stranger in this case is that no media source, this far, seems to have picked up on the fact that Bial was in the news only last summer over a health service fraud investigation involving payments made for scientific studies that ended up going on the prescription of medicines.

Jornal de Notícias carried the story, in which it said public prosecutors “suspected the crimes of active and passive corruption, qualified fraud and falsification of documents”.

As many as 24 searches took place up and down the country, “particularly in premises of pharmaceutical company Bial”.

Indeed a source told JN at the time that the searches were “aimed at the Bial group”.

Bial “was not among those eventually made official defendants”, affirmed the paper, however 11 of the company’s staff members were.

According to the report, the frauds under investigation related “among other things” to the (mis)use of payments made for scientific research.

Bial was described as “taken by surprise” when investigators arrived to search their premises, on the orders of DCIAP – the central department for penal investigation. And since the JN story, very little else appears to have been reported.

[email protected]