East Germany’s secret police sold citizens to western pharmaceutical companies to use as human guinea pigs in drug trials
- Tens of thousands tested with experimental drugs not approved in the West
- One study of a drug for heart conditions saw six out of 17 patients die
- Sinister practice exposed in disturbing new Germany documentary
PUBLISHED: 08:56 EST, 4 December 2012 | UPDATED: 12:03 EST, 4 December 2012
Former Communist East Germany secretly sold its citizens to western pharmaceutical companies to use as human guinea pigs in drug trials.
Tens of thousands of sick people in the former German Democratic Republic were treated with medicines not approved in the West to see how effective they were.
Details of the top secret project have been unearthed in the files of the Stasi secret police in Berlin. The communist regime profited with millions in hard currency.
But the human cost was high with dozens killed through side effects of drugs which had bypassed the normally stringent testing procedures demanded by western democracies.
Even worse, some patients received placebos – pills that did nothing at all – to gauge how they responded in comparison to others who were given proper medication.
The practice was exposed by journalists Stefan Hoge and Carsten Opitz and screened this week in Germany in a disturbing documentary entitled ‘Test and Dead’.
The Stasi files – miles and miles of yellowing paperwork which the hated secret police of East Germany failed to destroy when the country imploded in 1989 – revealed details of how it became one of the most important testing arenas for western drug companies.
The conspiracy involved the state, doctors and western big pharma firms.
GDR leaders were happy to implement the programme in a land which excelled only in shortages.
‘There were pharmacies which could no longer provide 20 percent of needed drugs,’ said pharmaceutical historian Christoph Friedrich from the University of Marburg. ‘And that shortage extended to hospitals.’
The thalidomide scandal at the beginning of the 1960’s intensified the criteria for medical testing across the western world, including in West Germany.
New regulatory requirements for market approval forced the manufacturer to conduct ever larger clinical trials of their drugs in large groups of patients.
East Germany, for cold, hard cash, was willing to provide the guinea pigs – although they would never know that they formed part of a huge experiment.
‘A secret Conference with politburo Central Committee members responsible for health care provided the stage for a momentous deal in the spring of 1983,’ said historian Friedrich.
‘At selected hospitals, doctors from western pharmaceutical companies were able to perform clinical tests of non-approved drugs.
‘Paperwork in the Stasi files shows that western drug corporations signed contracts with a GDR foreign trade company. From 20 tests in 1983 there were 165 underway in 1988.
‘The researchers could find no documentation in the Stasi files, or the records of the former East German Ministry of Health, showing that patients knew they were in fact being used as test models.
The TV programme could find no-one in western big pharma companies who had any idea about the secret testing programme, said Opitz.