East German 'medical guinea pig' scandal grows: report

22nd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

East Germany's communist regime used far more patients than first thought as unwitting guinea pigs for drugs tests on behalf of Western firms, the producer of a TV programme on the scandal said 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 pharmaceuticals 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. They died 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.

Contacted by AFP, Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff declined to comment on the allegations and said that the company had not been approached about the report. He added that the firm's drug trials met the highest ethical principals.

© 2010 AFP

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