In his speech Stock stated “Grünenthal acted in accordance with the state of scientific knowledge and all industry standards for testing new drugs that were relevant and acknowledged in the 1950s and 1960s. We regret that the teratogenic potential of thalidomide could not be detected by the tests that we and others carried out before it was marketed.”
This is not true. Grünenthal never tested the drug on pregnant women, neither did they do any reproductive studies on animals, as was the standard practice at the time. Additionally, the idea that a substance could pass through the placenta and damage a fetus, especially early in pregnancy, was well known and well publicized at the time in Germany.
In 1970 the trial against Grünenthal’s leading executives and employees was terminated after the company agreed to compensate survivors. Legally it was never sorted out if Grünenthal could have foreseen the teratogenic effects of Thalidomide. The court itself said that had the trial continued “it is possible that further taking of evidence would confirm the predictability of malformations.”
The lack of sufficient drug test data was precisely the reason why Dr. Francis Kelsey from the FDA would never approve Thalidomide for sale in the US. Kelsey argued the information Grünenthal and Richardson-Merrell (Grünenthal’s US licensee) had provided about the drug’s safety was inadequate. She was especially concerned when she learned that Thalidomide had been never properly tested on pregnant animals. Thanks to Kelsey’s persistence, the US was undoubtedly spared from thousands of Thalidomide cases.
Grünenthal nevertheless marketed Thalidomide as harmless and completely safe, including for pregnant women, and continued to do so after they had received numerous reports of its toxicity.
Stock employed the word “tragedy” a few times in his speech, which implies that Grünenthal couldn’t have done anything to prevent or stop the epidemic. Grünenthal, however, could and should have done proper tests and they could have taken the drug off the market as soon as they received warning reports.