Letters to "Lancet" That Made History
December 16, 1961.
W.G. McBride wrote a 15 line letter to the Editor stating "... In recent month I have observed that the incidence of multiple severe abnormalities in babies delivered of women who were given the drug thalidomide ... bony development seems to be affected ... have any of your readers seen similar abnormalities who have taken this drug during pregnancy?"
Following this letter the Editor inserted a statement indicating that
in the December 2nd issue was a statement from the Distillers Company Ltd.
referring to "reports from two overseas sources possibly associating thalidomide
with harmful effects on the foetus ... the company decided to withdraw
from the market all its preparations containing thalidomide."
January 6, 1962.
Dr. Von W. Lenz wrote, "I have seen 52 malformed infants whose mothers had taken "Contergan" in early pregnancy ... since I discussed the aetiological role of "Contergan" ... at a conference on Nov. 18, 1961, I have received letters ... reporting 115 additional cases ...".
A companion letter by Drs. R.A. Pfeiffer and W. Kosenow stated, "In a discussion at a conference on November 18, 1961, about the problem of an environmental origin for congenital defects of the extremities, thalidomide was considered as a possible teratogenic agent ... In 1961, we demonstrated identical cases ... we have high statistical significance connecting these defects with the taking of thalidomide ...".
A third letter by Dr. D. J. Hayman (the Managing Director of Distillers Company Ltd) stated, "Pharmacological studies and clinical inquiries are already in hand to determine whether thalidomide taken in early pregnancy can have harmful effects on the foetus ... We are prepared to make supplies available to hospitals where the administration of the drug and its companion products will be under close supervision and its use in pregnancy can be avoided."
Note: According to Dr. Helen B. Taussig, a pioneer in pediatrics, the
first series of children with Thalidomide-induced malformations were reported
by Dr. H. R. Wiedemann in the September 16th of 1961 issue of the Med.
Welt (from "A Study of the German Outbreak of Phocomelia", JAMA 180: 1106,
1962). The same claim is made by Dr. H. R. Wiedeman in his article in honor of Dr. Von W. Lenz.