More than half a century after German drug manufacturer Grünenthal Group set into motion a new era of global drug regulation after its morning sickness drug Thalidomide was linked to deaths and serious birth defects, the company has offered something long sought by activists: an apology.
Speaking at an unveiling of a Thalidomide Memorial in Rhineland, Germany, Grünenthal CEO Harald Stock offered his "sincere regrets" and "deep sympathy for all those affected."
"We are aware of our responsibility and will continue to fulfill it in demand-oriented projects and initiatives," said Stock, who said both the company and international regulators had learned much from the drug's failure.
Stock also said his company was apologizing for having, "not found the way to you from person to person for almost 50 years."
"Instead, we have been silent, and we are very sorry for that," continued Stock.
Activists: Apology Falls Short
Thalidomide activists, however, said the apology amounted to an empty gesture. "We feel that a sincere and genuine apology is one which actually admits wrongdoing," said Nick Dobrik, a member of the UK's Thalidomide Trust, to The Guardian. "The company has not done that and has really insulted the Thalidomiders."
While the drug resulted in fatal birth defects for approximately half of children subjected to it, the surviving half, many of whom have been vocal in campaigning for compensation for their injuries, primarily suffered from malformed limbs. Grünenthal Group has meanwhile claimed it acted in accordance with the law at the time-something reiterated by Stock in his remarks.
"Grünenthal has acted in accordance with the state of scientific knowledge and all industry standards for testing new drugs that were relevant and acknowledged in the 1950s and 1960s," Stock remarked. "We regret that the teratogenic potential of Thalidomide could not be detected by the tests that we and others carried out before it was marketed."
For survivors of Thalidomide, the apology falls short of meeting their needs of care, which are being exacerbated as many born in the late 1950s near the age of retirement. "When you are disabled, it costs a lot of money," said Freddie Astbury, a consultant with Thalidomide UK, in an interview with The New York Times. "We are in our 50s, we need care. We need adaptations in our houses and cars, for starters. So if they're serious, let's get around the table and talk financial help."