East German 'medical guinea pig' scandal grows: report

22nd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

East Germany's communist authorities used far more patients than previously thought as unwitting guinea pigs for drugs tests on behalf of Western firms, a television report said on Thursday.

Spiegel magazine first reported in 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that doctors at the renowned Charite hospital in the former East Berlin had tested experimental medicines on patients without their knowledge.

But according to a research by public broadcaster MDR, other hospitals in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) were also involved, testing more than 2,000 patients, MDR producer Stefan Huge told AFP.

One woman, Karin Forner, told MDR's "Exakt" programme shown late Wednesday that her mother was only given a bed in Plauen hospital near Dresden in 1989 after she agreed for her to take part in a "study".

Her mother was given an antidepressant drug called Brofaromin made by Western pharma company Ciba Geigy, now part of Swiss giant Novartis, which was never released on the market, the programme said.

Forner's mother lost weight, stopped reacting to the outside world and appeared close to death, the programme said. She only recovered after Forner persuaded doctors to give her different medicines.

Documents uncovered by MDR showed that others were not so lucky, dying after the tests, which also included other drugs being developed by other pharmaceutical companies in the 1980s.

The GDR, which systematically abused its citizens' rights, agreed to test the drugs in order to earn much-needed Western currency to prop up the country's faltering state-run economy, the programme said.

Novartis declined to comment on the claims, NDR said.

© 2010 AFP

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