Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Wonder Drug

Wonder Drug: The Secret History of Thalidomide in America and Its Hidden Victims by Jennifer Vanderbes
6/27/23; 432 pages
Random House

Wonder Drug: The Secret History of Thalidomide in America and Its Hidden Victims by Jennifer Vanderbes is a very highly recommended, thoroughly researched investigation of thalidomide in the US and beyond.

Thalidomide represents a shocking and alarming example of pharmaceutical negligence. Many people know of the severe birth defects suffered by babies in Germany and England when pregnant women were given the supposedly safe thalidomide early in their pregnancies. Few know that in 1959 the William S. Merrell Company was distributing samples of it to doctors for clinical trials. The company describing it as a sedative without risks and said that its approval by the Food and Drug Administration was sure to be soon. 

However, in 1960 when FDA medical reviewer Frances Kelsey was reviewing the application for thalidomide she wanted more data and testing documentation to prove the many claims being made about the drug. Soon it became clear to her that the research on side effects was shoddy and incomplete. The safety claims were reckless. Then she learned about the severe birth abnormalities abroad. She and other fought to block the authorization of the drug in the USA.

What was not immediately known was that this "wonder drug" was still distributed to thousands of women in the US through the free samples given to doctors. The records of who these doctors gave the thalidomide to were incomplete or nonexistent.  Most of the American victims of thalidomide were unknown or unable to prove they were given the drug. The pharmaceutical companies in the USA were never held accountable for the damage their "drug trials" did to people.

Wonder Drug is very well-written investigative journalism. The details are gripping and all of the historical facts are researched and documented. To help readers follow the story of this world-wide big pharma negligence, a list of people involved is in the front of the book so readers can keep all the personalities separate. This is a must-read, especially for those who are interested in history and details concerning a medical scandal of epic proportions.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House via NetGalley.

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