The penumbra of thalidomide, the litigation culture and the licensing of pharmaceuticals

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Fifty years ago several thousand children were born with severe limb defects after their mothers had been given thalidomide in pregnancy. This tragedy caused procedures for licensing new medicines to become much stricter. Where, nevertheless, significant side effects were found it became common to sue for damages. These consequences have caused possibly an even greater disaster damaging many more people and threatening ruin to health services everywhere. The huge increase in both time and cost in bringing medicines to market is increasing their price to unsupportable levels; and only wealthy companies are now able to do so. This requires reform as does litigation for ‘statistical’ harmful effects.

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