Recently, this blog mentioned that Grunenthal, the German manufacturer of Thalidomide, apologized to victims who suffered birth defects from the drug for the first time in 50 years. Thalidomide was prescribed in the 1950s and early 1960s to mothers during the first trimester of pregnancy. Intended to combat morning sickness, the drug was pulled from the market after research showed that babies born to mothers who took it had severe birth defects. Those children now claim that Grunenthal knew about the birth defects as early as 1955, but chose to take no action. Thalidomide was never approved for sale in the United States, but many charge that physicians were able to obtain samples anyway, which they then prescribed to American women who were pregnant.
A new study from John Hopkins University found that while Thalidomide might cause severe birth defects, the drug may be a benefit in other areas -- including treating multiple myeloma, Crohn's disease, leprosy, and a deadly lung cancer known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a type of disease that affects people over the age of 40, where over time, the lungs become stiff and scarred. The only known cure is a lung transplant. Otherwise, those with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis live on average just three to five years longer.
John Hopkins conducted a small trial consisting of 20 patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The patients were given either Thalidomide or a placebo for three months and told to report information about their symptoms. Of those who were given Thalidomide, 63% described a decrease in the debilitating cough that is frequently a feature of the disease. The Thalidomide did not cure the disease, but it did reduce the symptoms and enable those with the disease to lead a more productive life.
Researchers cautioned that the drug was not without side effects, including dizziness, malaise, and tingling. Furthermore, all of the participants were over the age of 50, which meant that none would ever be having children.
If you have birth defects resulting from Thalidomide -- or, for that matter, from any drug that your mother was prescribed during pregnancy -- it is important to note that just because the drug has beneficial uses in one situation does not mean that you cannot sue over it being unreasonably dangerous in another situation. If a drug has multiple uses, whether to treat cancer or to stop epileptic seizures or to prevent morning sickness, it needs to be safe in all those situations. If it is not safe, you have the option of filing a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. You would charge that the drug came off the assembly line with an "unreasonably dangerous" design, or had an insufficient warning label. Any defense by the manufacturer that the drug is safe "in other situations" would have no bearing, because what matters is that the drug is safe in your situation.