• Germany edition
 
East Germany sold sick for West pharma testing
Photo: DPA

East Germany sold sick for West pharma testing

Published: 04 Dec 2012 12:22 GMT+01:00
Updated: 04 Dec 2012 12:22 GMT+01:00

The unwitting human guinea pigs were either given unproven medicines or placebos against which the effects of the new drugs could be compared. Western pharma firms paid hundreds of thousands of Deutsche marks for the test subjects - all of which was swallowed by the struggling East German economy.

The documentary Tests und Tote (Tests and the Dead) shown on Monday night on the ARD state broadcaster showed how as pharma companies were forced to conduct extensive testing in the wake of the Thalidomide scandal which left thousands of people deformed, they turned to the East, which was desperate for hard currency.

But considering the severity of the claims - and potential for compensation demands, it seems unlikely that pharma companies will offer a mea culpa and apology as Ikea recently did for using East German political prisoners as cheap labour.

One case featured in the show was that of Gerhard Lehrer, who was admitted to Dresden hospital in 1989 after having a heart attack, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Tuesday.

The doctor there gave him red-and-white capsules to take and, according to Lehrer's widow, praised the drugs, saying they were difficult to get. Lehrer's condition failed to improve, and the hospital soon told him to stop taking the drug, and to return the supply he had been given. Shortly before he died, he told his wife to hang onto the pills, which she did.

Placebo instead of treatment

Tests on what she kept showed he had been given a placebo - that the capsules contained nothing that would help his heart condition - a seriously ill man had been denied medical treatment as part of a medical study without his consent.

The ARD journalists followed a number printed on the box of Lehrer's fake drugs and found a corresponding file in the East German Health Ministry archive - Lehrer had been part of a study on Ramipril - a blood pressure drug developed by Hoechst.

A combination of two developments during the 1980s served to create the conditions where the East German government sold its sick citizens to Western pharma companies, Der Spiegel said.

New laws were forcing pharma companies to conduct proper scientific studies on their products before they would be licensed for sale - and patients taking part had to be fully informed of the risks of doing so.

And secret police files show that the East Germany's financial difficulties were leading to shortages of medical supplies, with doctors' complaints becoming increasingly vocal.

Selling the sick

A secret meeting of East German ruling Central Committee members responsible for health care in spring 1983 set the course of selling patients to Western firms, said Christoph Friedrich, a pharma historian from Marburg University. Certain hospitals would conduct tests for Western producers, and would be able to use the money.

Enthusiasm on both sides was high - in 1982 there were 20 such contracts, while by 1988 the number had jumped to 165.

The secret tests were stopped with the 1989-90 collapse of the East German state. Millions of Deutsche marks had been earned at the expense of the ill and dying, the ARD show said. Although exact figures have been lost along with most of the old files, individual studies were shown to have brought in up to DM860,000.

The journalists approached the successor companies to Hoechst and Sandoz, which were shown to have conducted testing on unwitting East German patients. French giant Sanofi-Aventis, which includes the former Hoechst, was cooperative and allowed access to its files.

But neither the pharma industry associations nor the ministries responsible said they were able to find anyone who had any idea of the cross-border studies, the journalists said.

The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

00:03 December 5, 2012 by vonSchwerin
Next we're going to read, "East Germans sold for soylent green production."
Today's headlines
Oettinger blames celebs for nude photo hack
Oettinger (l) appeared to misunderstand how the internet works in his comments about the photo hack which has reportedly affected celebrities including Amber Heard (r). Photo: DPA/EPA

Oettinger blames celebs for nude photo hack

German newspapers on Tuesday ridiculed incoming EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger after he blamed "stupid" celebrities for having their private nude pictures hacked and spread online. READ  

Shots fired as ‘seniors’ rob Berlin security van
Police outside the Apple Store in Berlin where a security van was robbed. Photo: DPA

Shots fired as ‘seniors’ rob Berlin security van

A gang disguised as pensioners opened fire on a Berlin security van on Monday night, escaping with cash before setting their getaway car on fire. It is the second such attack in ten days. READ  

Pickpocket fools minister at anti-crime event
Ralf Jäger in front of a sign reading "eyes open and pockets closed" at the pickpocketing awareness event. Photo: DPA

Pickpocket fools minister at anti-crime event

North Rhine-Westphalia's interior minister Ralf Jäger was pickpocketed by a magician at a press conference he called on Monday to launch a campaign against pickpocketing. READ  

Berlin heart centre fiddled transplant list
Photo: DPA

Berlin heart centre fiddled transplant list

A probe into German transplant centres sparked by an organ donor scandal has revealed 14 cases of a doctor fiddling medical records at one of Germany’s leading heart centres. READ  

Lufthansa strike hits 20,000 passengers
A stranded group of travellers from Vancouver, Canada, sit and wait at Frankfurt Airport on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Lufthansa strike hits 20,000 passengers

UPDATE: The fourth pilots’ strike in recent weeks hit Germany’s biggest airport on Tuesday morning, with long-haul Lufthansa flights grounded at Frankfurt. Around 20,000 passengers have been affected. READ  

View from Germany
'Criminals are at work in refugee homes'
Photo: DPA/Police

'Criminals are at work in refugee homes'

A photo appearing to show a refugee being abused at a home for asylum seekers has caused outrage in Germany. The photo has been compared to those from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Police are now investigating six cases of abuse at three different centres. READ  

Police suspect neo-Nazis of Reichstag attack
An investigator gives a sniffer dog the scent of an object found at the scene. Photo: DPA

Police suspect neo-Nazis of Reichstag attack

Investigators believe a Molotov cocktail thrown at the Reichstag building in Berlin early on Monday morning was the work of a far-right group, a police spokeswoman said on Tuesday. READ  

Unemployment rate stagnates in September
Photo: DPA

Unemployment rate stagnates in September

Unemployment in Germany stagnated in September, as clouds continue to build over Europe's biggest economy, official data showed on Tuesday. READ  

Germany struggles with Turkey Nato mission
A Bundeswehr Patriot missile in southern Turkey. Photo: DPA

Germany struggles with Turkey Nato mission

A shortage of trained troops caused more embarrassment for Germany's military on Tuesday when it emerged that more than one in four soldiers taking part in a Nato mission in Turkey are not getting their allotted time off between deployments. READ  

Spielberg to shoot spy thriller in Berlin
Spielberg (l), Amy Ryan (c) and Tom Hanks (r). Photo: DPA

Spielberg to shoot spy thriller in Berlin

Director Steven Spielberg is to shoot his next film in Germany, the Berlin-Brandenburg Film Board announced on Monday. The Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan director is turning his attention to a Cold War spy thriller. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
Immigrants have created how many German jobs?
Photo: DPA
Munich
Brit raped at Oktoberfest while going to toilet
Photo: DPA
National
Revealed: Germany's military feet of clay
Marks & Spencer
Sponsored Article
Marks and Spencer: Win €300 toward your new autumn wardrobe
Photo: Shutterstock
Society
Quiz: How good is your German?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Thousands take to Berlin's streets for marathon
Photo: DPA
Society
'Incest should be legal,' says ethics board
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Ten noises that sound very different in German
Photo: DPA
Society
QUIZ: Can you pass the German citizenship test?
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten German words you'll never want to hear again
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,154
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd