German Thalidomide Manufacturer Apologizes


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:25 AM EDT, 2 September 2012

Thalomid Birth Defect Prothesis, Photo by Gaetan LeeLONDON: Nearly 50 years ago an estimated 10,000 children worldwide were born with birth defects that left its victims limbless or with flipper like appendages.

The cause of these gross malformations was a drug called Thalidomide which was manufactured by the German company Grunenthal GmbH.

The drug was originally manufactured and sold to treat morning sickness in pregnant women during the 1950s and 1960s. However, the women who took the drug gave birth to disabled children who, if lucky to survive infancy, lived challenging lives with severe disabilities.

Thalidomide was sold in 46 countries but never gained FDA approval in the United States. An estimated 40 babies were born with thalidomide-related deformities in the United States, according to the New York Times until it was pulled from the shelves in 1961.

On Friday, 1 September 2012, Grunenthal CEO Harald Stock apologized at the unveiling of a statue for the drug's birth defect victims in Stolberg, Germany. He made the apology on behalf of the company for its culpability in manufacturing the drug without adequately testing its safety for use by pregnant women, as well as its lack of response to victims of the drugs over the last 50 years.

"We apologize for the fact that we have not found the way to address you person to person for almost 50 years. Instead, we have been silent and we are sorry for that. We had no reason to imagine that it could seriously harm their unborn children.”

For the victims of the drug this apology is too little and too late. Some even feel that the apology is an insult to those who have lived with the effects of thalidomide for the past 50 years without redress. Despite the controversy surrounding the drug and its obvious detrimental effect, the drug is still in use.

It is currently used in a limited capacity in the United States for treating multiple myeloma (a cancer that starts in the bone marrow). When prescribed as a course of treatment for women, they must be menopausal for at least two years or have had a hysterectomy.

Even then, they are informed that according to the National Institutes of Health severe birth defects can result from a single dose of thalidomide and thus are subjected to regular pregnancy tests while taking the drug.

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