Thalidomide makers say sorry
Sat, 01 Sep 2012 11:12a.m.
By Frank Jordans and Maria Cheng
The German manufacturer of a notorious drug that caused thousands of babies to be born with shortened arms and legs, or no limbs at all, issued its first ever apology Friday - 50 years after pulling the drug off the market.
Gruenenthal Group's chief executive said the company wanted to apologise to mothers who took the drug during the 1950s and 1960s and to their children who suffered congenital birth defects as a result.
"We ask for forgiveness that for nearly 50 years we didn't find a way of reaching out to you from human being to human being," Harald Stock said. "We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us."
Stock spoke in the West German city of Stolberg, where the company is based, during the unveiling of a bronze statue symbolising a child born without limbs because of thalidomide. The statue is called "the sick child" - a name German victims group object to since all the victims are now adults. In German, the name also implies cure.
The drug is a powerful sedative and was sold under the brand name Contergan in Germany. It was given to pregnant women mostly to combat morning sickness, but led to a wave of birth defects in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. Thalidomide was yanked from the market in 1961 and was also found to cause defects in the eyes, ears, heart, genitals and internal organs of developing babies.
Thalidomide was never approved for use in pregnant women in the United States.
Freddie Astbury, of Liverpool, England, was born without arms or legs after his mother took thalidomide. The 52-year-old said the apology was years long overdue.
"It's a disgrace that it's taken them 50 years to apologise," said Astbury, of the Thalidomide UK agency, an advocacy group for survivors. "I'm gobsmacked [astounded]," he said. "For years, [Gruenenthal] have insisted they never did anything wrong and refused to talk to us."
Astbury said the drug maker should apologise not just to the people affected, but to their families. He also said the company should offer compensation. "It's time to put their money where their mouth is," he said. "For me to drive costs about 50,000 pounds [US$79,000] for a car with all the adaptations," he said. "A lot of us depend on specialist care and that runs into the millions."
Astbury said he and other UK survivors have received some money over the years from a trust set up by thalidomide's British distributor but that Gruenenthal has never agreed to settle.
"We invite them to sit around the table with us to see how far their apology will go," he said. "I don't think they've ever realised the impact they've had on peoples' lives."
Gruenenthal settled a lawsuit in Germany in 1972 - 11 years after stopping sales of the drug - and voiced its regret to the victims. But for decades, the company refused to admit liability, saying it had conducted all necessary clinical trial required at the time.
Stock reiterated that position Friday, insisting that "the suffering that occurred with Contergan 50 years ago happened in a world that is completely different from today" and the pharmaceutical industry had learned a valuable lesson from the incident.
"When it developed Contergan Gruenenthal acted on the basis of the available scientific knowledge at the time and met all the industry standards for the testing of new drugs that were known in the 1950s and 1960s," he said.
A German victims group rejected the company's apology as too little, too late.
"The apology as such doesn't help us deal with our everyday life," said Ilonka Stebritz, a spokeswoman for the Association of Contergan Victims. "What we need are other things."
Stebritz said that the 1970 settlement in Germany led to the creation of a [EURO]150 million fund for some 3000 German victims, but that with a normal life expectancy of 85 years the money wasn't enough. In many other countries, victims are still waiting for compensation from Gruenenthal or its local distributors.
In July, an Australian woman born without arms and legs after her mother took thalidomide reached a multimillion dollar settlement with the drug's British distributor. Gruenenthal refused to settle. The lawsuit was part of a class action and more than 100 other survivors expect to have their claims heard in the next year.
Thalidomide is still sold today, but as a treatment for multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer and leprosy. It is also being studied to see if it might be useful for other conditions including AIDS, arthritis and other cancers.
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2/09/2012 5:35:36 a.m.
Dr David Hill wrote:
It is apparent that these pharmaceutical companies have no integrity or any empathy with society in the way that they operate. They cover up and do not disclose to the regulators the sheer damaging side effects of their drugs as in the recent case of GlaxoSmithKline in the USA where they paid out over $3 billion in pre-action damages to stop US authorities issuing legal prosecutions against them (largest equivalent fine in pharmaceutical corporate history). These drugs were also sold over many years under false pretences to teenagers with depression problems and people with life threatening health problems (diabetics). GSK were not bothered at all about the ill-health that these drugs did to those who were prescribed these drugs also. Indeed the irony of this limitations damages payment was that according to some calculations GSK sold $28 billion of these harmful drugs around the world but where with an industry average mark-up of 50% made $14 billion profit. Therefore take $3 billion from $14 billion and GSK have pocketed $11 billion from this crime against humanity. They say that crime does not really pay but clearly it does when you are a global behemoth and have such financial and economic power. Therefore in modern times the leopard has not really changed its spots one bit since Thalidomide was prescribed half a century ago. Indeed this is clear case again where the drug company concerned should also pay dearly to all those people that it has affected across the globe.But we have to go back to the history of the giant pharmaceuticals to see why and where their modern roots lie.An excellent exposé here is http://foolscrow.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/return-to-nuremberg-big-pharma-must-answer-for-crimes-against-humanity/Dr David HillWorld Innovation FoundationUnited Kingdom – Switzerland
1/09/2012 5:49:13 p.m.
MR HOLMES THE PEARL GINGER CAT . wrote:
oh well thats ok then is it not . they are still doing today with new drugs just what they did with this drug 50 years ago . they only thing drug company are motivated by is money .
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