Thalidomide

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* THALIDOMIDE * By: KAUSHIK DOWARAH * The thalidomide disaster is one of the darkest episodes in pharmaceutical research history. The drug was marketed as a mild sleeping pill safe even for pregnant women. However, it caused thousands of babies worldwide to be born with malformed limbs. The damage was revealed in 1962. Before then, every new drug was seen as beneficial. Now there was suspicion and rigorous testing. * SYNTHESIS AND EARLY USE * Thalidomide was developed in the 1950s by the West German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grünenthal GmbH to expand the company’s product range beyond antibiotics. It was an anticonvulsive drug, but instead it made users sleepy and relaxed. It seemed a perfect example of newly fashionable tranquilisers. The drug also reduced morning sickness, so it became popular with pregnant women. * First suspicions and the disaster * By 1960 doctors were concerned about possible side effects. Some patients had nerve damage in their limbs after long-term use. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s drug examiner Frances Oldham Kelsey did not approve the drug for use. * There was an increase in births of thalidomide-impaired children in Germany and elsewhere. However, no link with thalidomide was made until 1961. The drug was only taken off the market after the German Widukind Lenz and the Australian William McBride independently suggested the link. Over 10,000 children were born with thalidomide-related disabilities worldwide. Well-known people in the UK affected by thalidomide include actor and writer Mat Fraser. * AFTERMATH * Research into thalidomide’s effects on leprosy resulted in a 1967 World Health Organisation (WHO) clinical trial. Positive results saw thalidomide used against leprosy in many developing countries. It is also used successfully to control some AIDS-related conditions,…...

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