After being developed in Germany in 1953, thalidomide was originally marketed in 1957 as a “wonder drug” for insomnia, colds, coughs, and headaches. It was then promoted as a sedative to treat morning sickness in pregnant women and was licensed in the UK in 1958.
The drug first caused neurological and other problems in the patients themselves. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, a human catastrophe of epic proportions occurred as a generation of 10,000 to 12,000 “thalidomide babies” were born with crippling deformities including horribly malformed or missing limbs and other body parts, blindness, neurological damage, and other horrendous injuries.
Thalidomide was pulled from the market in 1961. In 1998, the drug was re-approved (as Thalomid) by the FDA, under the tightest restrictions, for the treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL), a serious inflammatory condition in patients with Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy).
In 1968, compensation settlements were reached with the manufacturer, Distillers Biochemicals Limited (Distillers). Today, Distillers is part of the oligopoly known as Diageo which owns numerous premium alcoholic beverage labels. The conglomerate was formed in 1998 and calls itself the “leading vendor of premium drinks.”
Under the original settlement, the victims now receive about $22,500 to $24,300 per year. Diageo has planned to set aside another $260 million for the survivors which could double the annual figure per person by the year 2022.
The Thalidomide Trust distributes money to 455 survivors in the UK who are now facing significantly greater financial and medical problems as they reach their 50s and 60s. Diageo appears to be quite sensitive to the needs and problems of these unfortunate survivors of one of the great pharmaceutical disasters in history.