East Germany let drugs companys use its citizens as guinea pigs
The East German communist state allowed Western pharmaceutical companies to use its citizens as human guinea pigs for secret clinical trials in return for hard currency, it has been revealed.
By Matthew Day
05 Dec 2012
East Germany made millions of deutschemarks from the trade that ran for six years and only came to an end with the collapse of the socialist state in 1990 despite the fact that some patients died during the trials. The allegations of the use of unwitting human guinea pigs came in a documentary called "Tote und Deaths" Death and Tests which was aired on German television earlier this week. Although the destruction of old East German health ministry files made it impossible to determine the exact number of sick people involved, the documentary estimated that over the years thousands were caught up the deadly testing.
The trade came to light after journalists from the television company ARD were given a jar of red and white pills dating back to 1989. It once belonged to an East German called Gerhard Lehrer who had been given the drug after suffering a heart attack, with doctors assuring him the pills were very effective. Despite taking them, Mr Lehrer died.
His widow kept the jar and years later had the pills tested, only to find they were a placebo. ARD journalists found a file in the East German archives with a number corresponding to that on the jar of pills, and that lifted the lid on the practice of trading patients for money. In the early 1980s the East German economy was suffering and the growing number of shortages also included medical supplies. "There were pharmacies which could no longer provide 20 per cent of needed drugs," Christoph Friedrich, a pharmaceutical historian from the University of Marburg, told the documentary makers, "and that shortage extended to hospitals.".
Salvation came in 1983 when a secret meeting of health officials decided to allow Western pharmaceutical companies to test drugs in East Germany. For the Western companies using East Germans as guinea pigs circumvented the rigorous testing regulations imposed upon them following the 1960s thalidomide scandal. By 1988 165 test programmes were being carried out across the country..In 1989 Hubert Bruchmuller was admitted to a specialist heart hospital in the town of Lostau and was given a new drug called Spirapril. During his stay at the hospital he saw one patient die from a heart attack in the bed beside him, and other patients in the same ward, he said, just seemed to disappear. Out of the 17 tested on at Lostau, six died. The ARD journalists could find no documents indicating that any of the patients were aware that they were part of a clinical trial. The pharmaceutical firms involved, some of which have since changed their names and company structures, said they had no knowledge of the testing.
East Germany’s secret police sold citizens to western pharmaceutical companies to use as human guinea pigs in drug trials
By Allan Hall
4 Dec 2012
Former Communist East Germany secretly sold its citizens to western pharmaceutical companies to use as human guinea pigs in drug trials. Tens of thousands of sick people in the former German Democratic Republic were treated with medicines not approved in the West to see how effective they were. Details of the top secret project have been unearthed in the files of the Stasi secret police in Berlin. The communist regime profited with millions in hard currency. But the human cost was high with dozens killed through side effects of drugs which had bypassed the normally stringent testing procedures demanded by western democracies. Even worse, some patients received placebos – pills that did nothing at all – to gauge how they responded in comparison to others who were given proper medication.
The practice was exposed by journalists Stefan Hoge and Carsten Opitz and screened this week in Germany in a disturbing documentary entitled ‘Test and Dead’. The Stasi files – miles and miles of yellowing paperwork which the hated secret police of East Germany failed to destroy when the country imploded in 1989 – revealed details of how it became one of the most important testing arenas for western drug companies. The conspiracy involved the state, doctors and western big pharma firms.
GDR leaders were happy to implement the programme in a land which excelled only in shortages. ‘There were pharmacies which could no longer provide 20 percent of needed drugs,’ said pharmaceutical historian Christoph Friedrich from the University of Marburg. ‘And that shortage extended to hospitals.’
The thalidomide scandal at the beginning of the 1960’s intensified the criteria for medical testing across the western world, including in West Germany. New regulatory requirements for market approval forced the manufacturer to conduct ever larger clinical trials of their drugs in large groups of patients. East Germany, for cold, hard cash, was willing to provide the guinea pigs – although they would never know that they formed part of a huge experiment.
‘A secret Conference with politburo Central Committee members responsible for health care provided the stage for a momentous deal in the spring of 1983,’ said historian Friedrich. ‘At selected hospitals, doctors from western pharmaceutical companies were able to perform clinical tests of non-approved drugs. ‘Paperwork in the Stasi files shows that western drug corporations signed contracts with a GDR foreign trade company. From 20 tests in 1983 there were 165 underway in 1988.‘The researchers could find no documentation in the Stasi files, or the records of the former East German Ministry of Health, showing that patients knew they were in fact being used as test models. The TV programme could find no-one in western big pharma companies who had any idea about the secret testing programme, said Opitz.