Bayer, Schering, Pfizer, Roche and Sandoz took advantage of the lack of legal guarantees and economic needs of East Germany to conduct scientific tests on ill people.

The German Association of Pharmaceutical Companies is now trying to ‘clarify’ the scientific dimension of medical experiments conducted on unsuspecting citizens of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). This weekend, the weekly Der Spiegel raised the number of possible victims to 50,000, rather than the few thousand cases, as it was informed in previous research.

Fifty clinics collaborated with multinational pharmaceutical companies which are members of the RDA, such as Schreing and Sandoz. These two companies and a few others conducted 600 large-scale experiments on East Germans without informing patients that they were being treated with unlicensed medicines.

In return, the German, American and Swiss companies payed huge sums to the authorities in addition to providing a diverse range of clinical material. Each study conducted by the large pharmaceutical corporations meant about 450,000 euros to the government of East Germany. The experiments that were allowed to happen in the 1980s were never revealed to the population while they were being completed.

Former Stasi chief, Roland Jahn, reported yesterday that the pharmaceutical industry “benefited from the authoritarian political conditions in the GDR”.

The dreaded Stasi was aware of all these maneuvers, because the regime was focused on obtaining economic benefits out of anything it could. In fact, money was one of the most important priorities of the socialist regime.

Some of the most influential global pharmaceutical corporations took advantage of the government’s lack of care for its citizens which enabled multinationals like Bayer, Schering, Pfizer, Roche and Sandoz to carry out their experiments. In addition to the economic interest, the pharmaceuticals also took advantage of the lack of legal guarantees to conduct scientific tests.

A Stasi report contains a conversation between Berlin Charité hospital doctors who along with their director, Christian Thierfelder, were considered petitions from the multinational Schering (now part of Bayer) to conduct experiments which the West considered as “inhuman “.

The tests include a wide range of pharmaceutical products such as chemotherapy, products to treat heart conditions, antidepressants, among others. Products were tested to observe their effects in humans because their ingredients included substances whose consequences were not clear yet. Those products were used on people to merely discover what use they could have in the production of so-called medicine.

The company Hoechst, now part of the French multinational Sanofi, used East Germans to test a drug called Trental, which directly killed at least two people. There is evidence that two others died after being treated with Spirapril, a product from the Bavarian pharmaceutical Sandoz. After the deaths, the company stopped the experiments.

Other documents show that the company Boehringer, now part of Hoffmann-La Roche, experimented by applying hormonal treatments with EPO on 30 preterm infants back in 1989. Der Spiegel also speaks of experiments with alcoholics, unconscious people and mentally ill or handicapped people who were treated with a medicine produced by Bayer called Nimodipin. The drug supposedly increased blood flow to the brain of patients who were unaware that they were being subjected to a medical test.

The director of the Institute of History of Medicine at the University Hospital Charité, Volker Hess, asked that these experiments were not considered as being in the same category as other human experiments carried out by Nazis during World War II .

Even though the pharmaceutical companies did not obtain the consent of patients, Hess believes that “the studies were conducted in accordance with existing rules” regarding common clinical tests.

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