Socialist Worker

Officials covered up birth defects link to protect drug firm

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2546

Drug giant Bayer absorbed the firm that made Primodos

Drug giant Bayer absorbed the firm that made Primodos (Pic: Wikimedia Commons/Sebastian Rittau)


New evidence has emerged of a cover-up involving the government, medical authorities and giant corporations.

Families believed for decades that hormone-based pregnancy test drug Primodos—used widely in the 1960s and 70s—might have been responsible for serious birth defects.

These include missing limbs, brain damage, heart defects and spina bifida.

Primodos contained hormones that would later be used in the morning-after pill, but much more concentrated. One dose of Primodos equates to 13 morning-after pills.

A review of archived documents by Sky News has found a damning study conducted in January 1975 by Dr William Inman. He was then principal medical officer for the British government.

Inman found that women who took a hormone pregnancy test were five times more likely to have a disabled child than those who didn’t.

He didn’t make his findings public. Instead he spoke to the manufacturing company Schering-Plough so it could “take measures to avoid medico-legal problems”.

Later files reportedly claimed Inman destroyed his papers—and that “he has done that to prevent individual claims being based on his material”. Inman died in 2005.

Inform

The present British drugs regulator said the decision was taken in 1975 to inform the manufacturer of preliminary findings so the company could decide whether to remove it.

In June 1975, a warning was placed on Primodos packets.

Extraordinarily for a pregnancy test, it stated that the drug should not be taken during pregnancy because of the risk that it may cause “congenital abnormalities”.

At this stage, it had already been on the market for 15 years. It wasn’t withdrawn for another three. It has also emerged that the pills were not tested before being given to women.

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi has supported those campaigning for an investigation.

She said, “These documents form a significant discovery. I believe there may have been a cover-up.”

Marie Lyon is chair of campaign group Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests. She said, “It’s unthinkable that more than 40 years after our children were born, neither the sufferers nor their mothers have had justice.”

She added that when families tried to take legal action before, “We were told if we wanted to proceed with the case we would have to remortgage our homes.”

Schering-Plough has now been taken over by pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which made profits of almost £4 billion last year.

Bayer has said the use of Primodos in the 1970s was “in compliance with prevailing laws”. It claims there is only “extremely weak” evidence of a causal link between Primodos and birth defects.

This shocking story reveals the contempt those at the top hold for ordinary people.


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