Thalidomide Disaster (1962)

The Thalidomide disaster is one of the tragic events which happened in the history of medical research field. This disaster resulted in the rules becoming more stringent for the pharmaceutical industries.

Initially, Thalidomide drug was marketed as a mild sleeping pill. Later, it was found that Thalidomide could also be used safely against nausea. And hence, healthcare professionals started prescribing the drug to pregnant women to relief them from morning sickness symptom.

Thalidomide was widely used in late 1950s and early 1960s. However, the drug caused unexpected and serious damage to thousands of unborn babies worldwide. The consumption of drug by pregnant women during pregnancy (especially first four to eight weeks) lead to birth of babies with birth defects such as deafness, blindness, disfigurement, cleft palate, phocomelia (bilateral shortened limbs) and other defects. It even caused deaths of many. Babies affected by this disaster were called “Thalidomide Babies”. The whole damage was noticed in 1960s post which the drug Thalidomide was banned immediately.

The summarized history of Thalidomide disaster is depicted below in the form of flowchart.

Post this disaster, drug testing was made more rigorous than before and manufactures were asked to prove the safety and effectiveness of their drug product before launching to the market.

Later research conducted by scientists discovered the reason behind the limb defect. They explained that component of the drug prevented the growth of new blood vessels in developing embryos, which caused defect in new born.

Due to the widespread negative results of Thalidomide, research into its potential use stopped for a time. However, further studies on the therapeutic properties of the drug were under progress.According to medical experts, even though consumption of Thalidomide is still dangerous for pregnant women, it can be used for the treatment for leprosy and bone cancer. However, use of Thalidomide is heavily regulated to avoid the horrific history.

The inventor of Thalidomide, the Grunenthal Group, released a statement in 2012 which said it "regrets" the consequences of the drug.