Did Western Drug Companies Subject East Germans To Wrongful Medical Trials?
May 15, 2013

Western Drug Companies Accused Of Medical Trials On Unsuspecting East Germans

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Western drug companies tested pharmaceuticals on more than 50,000 people in the former communist East Germany, several of whom died, the German weekly Der Spiegel reported this week, according to BBC News and other media outlets.

Some 600 clinical trials were allegedly conducted in more than 50 hospitals until the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, according to the report, which cited previously unpublished documents that came from private collections, archives of the former East German Health Ministry, the Stasi secret police and the country´s pharmaceutical authority.

Many major drug companies from Germany, Switzerland and the US participated in the trials, and offered up to 800,000 West German marks, or about $520,000 at today's exchange rate, per study, providing much-needed funds to support East Germany's underfunded health care system, the magazine said.

Documents showed that two people died in East Berlin during a trial of Trental, a drug that improves blood circulation developed by then West German company Hoechst, which has since merged with Sanofi, according to the report.

Two more patients died in a lung clinic near Magdeburg in tests of a blood pressure drug made by Sandoz, which has since been acquired by Novartis, Spiegel said.

Other tests involved preterm infants and alcoholics suffering acute delirium who were not capable of giving informed consent.

Germany´s Boehringer Ingelheim and Bayer AG, as well as firms later acquired by Roche Group, were also involved in the tests.

Patients were frequently not informed about the possible risks and side effects of these drugs, Der Spiegel reports.

The news weekly said that the drug companies, when contacted for comment, noted that the trials happened a long time ago and that they always follow strict protocols in drug trials.

Germany's federation of pharmaceutical manufacturers said there was "currently no reason to suspect that anything irregular happened," Spiegel said according to the AFP news agency.

But Berlin´s renowned Charite hospital, by far the biggest hospital in the former East Germany, said Monday that it plans to investigate the allegations.

A spokeswoman said the hospital has now ordered the customary shredding of old patient files be halted.

“A proper scientific study is planned, but we are waiting for funding,” Manuela Zingl told the Associated Press.

Claims that the East German government allowed tests that would have been considered unethical or illegal in the West were first made shortly after German reunification in 1990, although no wrongdoing was found at the time.

Such trials would have been nearly impossible in West Germany at the time due to widespread concerns about drug safety following the thalidomide tragedy, which caused thousands of babies to be born without limbs.

Finding detailed records about the medical trials will likely be difficult. Germany´s Health Ministry said it couldn´t confirm or deny Der Spiegel´s report because there had been no requirement to register the trials in the former West Germany. Any information that remains would have to come from hospital records, or those left over from the communist government in East Germany.