The Shadow of Thalidomide
The United States was largely spared this medical disaster thanks to the tenacity of one woman, a young FDA reviewer named Dr. Francis Kelsey, who fought more than a year to delay the drug’s approval in the United States and ultimately prevented its release. The realization of how close America came to participating in the tragedy sweeping across Europe brought about regulatory reforms that held pharmaceutical firms far more accountable for the drugs they make.
But, as Retro Report found, this dark chapter was not the end for thalidomide. Decades later scientific inquisitiveness collided with luck to turn the once-infamous drug into a life-saving treatment for tens of thousands of patients in the throes of other painful and often deadly diseases. From leprosy to blood-born cancers, thalidomide is now a go-to drug. This salvation, however, continues to carry a human cost; the shadow of its past is being revisited today in places like Brazil, and victims say they continue to look warily toward thalidomide’s future.