Pharmaceutical Company Grunenthal Apologizes 50 Years After Drug Pulled Off Market

Apology comes 50 years after Thalidomide was recalled for causing birth defects.

September 1, 2012, 4:01 PM

Sept. 1, 2012— -- The pharmaceutical company responsible for a morning sickness drug that left thousands of infants with birth defects -- including flipper-like limbs -- has finally apologized, more than five decades after the drug was recalled in 1961.

Grunenthal, the company that made thalidomide, attributed its 50-year lack of an apology "as a sign of silent shock," Grunenthal CEO Harald Stock said at the unveiling of a statue for the drug's birth defect victims in Stolberg, Germany on Friday.

"In numerous talks with those affected, but also, for example, with the ministry of Health, Equalities, Care and Ageing of North Rhine-Westphalia -- especially in the last few months -- we learned how much it is publically desired that we express our deep regrets to those affected by Thalidomide, and in particular to their mothers," Stock said.

One thalidomide victim's mother, Wendy Rowe, said Stock's remark was insulting, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company. She took the drug for one month of her pregnancy, causing her daughter, Lynne to be born without arms or legs.

"Our family couldn't have gone into silent shock. We had to get up and face each day every day and cope with the incredible damage Grunenthal had done to Lynne and our family," she told the news outlet. "Shock is having your precious child born without arms and legs. It's accepting that your child is not going to have that life that you wanted for her."

The statue created by artist Johannes Igel depicts a girl with hands but no arms in one chair and another empty chair.

An estimated 10,000 children were born with birth defects from thalidomide, many of whom died. Thalidomide 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.

By 1961, the German pharmaceutical company took the drug off the market.

Stock explained in his speech that Grunenthal could not have detected the problems its drug posed in unborn children.

"Hence the drug was taken by many women who had no reason to imagine that it could seriously harm their unborn children," he said. "We apologize for the fact that we have not found the way to you from person to person for almost 50 years. Instead, we have been silent and we are sorry for that."

Now, thalidomide is used for treating multiple myeloma (a cancer that starts in the bone marrow) in the United States, where it has warnings that even a single dose could cause "severe birth defects," according to the National Institutes of Health.

If women have not had a hysterectomy or stopped menstruating for two years, they are required to use two forms of birth control and take regular pregnancy tests while on thalidomide.

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