Drug trials

East Germany's Lucky Human Guinea Pigs

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East Germany's healthcare system was functional and well organized, but lacking in modern drugs and equipment.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Patients in the East were believed to have been exploited by West German pharma giants, but it turns out they were the lucky ones in a country where modern drugs were scarce.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • German pharma firms such as Hoechst ran drug trials in the East to lower costs and exploit its organized healthcare system.
    • The trials were not “guinea pig” tests, rather more advanced tests to determine effectiveness in wide populations.
    • They were largely ethical, and allowed patients in the East to get access to the latest treatments.
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    Audio

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Weapons, people, art. When it came to earning hard currency, the bankrupt German Democratic Republic (East Germany) made use of every source of money before it came crashing down with the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Clinical trials conducted on behalf of Western pharmaceutical companies were just one of many. But only half the revenues flowed back to the GDR’s healthcare system. “Like a pimp, the government sold its sick citizens and prostituted the country as a laboratory for the West’s clinical trials,” wrote the German news magazine Der Spiegel in 2013.

The outrage over the human experiments was huge. Medical historians were commissioned to investigate the accusations. Two and a half years later, and after forensically studying thousands of files belonging to the East German Ministry for State Security (the Stasi) and other authorities companies and hospitals, their report on the scandal is ready.

In their report, “Clinical Drug Research in the GDR,” the historians found a total of 900 clinical trials commissioned by Western producers; the details of 321 of them are well documented, and the drugs tested typical of the time.

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