German drug maker covered up warnings about thalidomide risk

Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker

SECRET files reveal the German maker of thalidomide ignored and covered-up repeated warnings that its drug could damage unborn babies.

The Herald has obtained excerpts of never-before-published files from pharmaceutical giant Grunenthal’s archives, which detail the explicit warnings the company received about its drug’s potential to harm foetuses well before it was withdrawn from sale in late 1961.

An estimated 10,000 babies worldwide were born in the late 1950s and ’60s with severe physical deformities because their mothers had taken thalidomide drugs, which were marketed as a safe sedative and remedy for morning sickness.

The Grunenthal files – many of which have been reproduced in the Victorian Supreme Court by the Slater & Gordon lawyer Michael Magazanik – expose a 50-year global cover-up and demolish the company’s long-held position that the scandal was an unforeseeable tragedy and that its ”actions were consistent with the state of scientific knowledge and prevailing standards of the 1950s”.

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