Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey saved thousands of babies in the US from Thalidomide.
She was born in British Columbia, Canada, in 1914. After completing undergraduate and master degrees at McGill University (Montreal, QC) she was hired by the University of Chicago as a research assistant. There she received a PhD in pharmacology. In 1960 she joined the US Food and Drug Administration. Only one month after commencing her new role as a reviewer for the FDA she was assigned the ‘simple’ case of Thalidomide. The young pharmacologist withheld the approval of the new drug despite its popularity in Europe, Canada and Australia. Dr. Kelsey requested further testing and demanded more information about nerve damage. She also wondered if Thalidomide could harm a fetus. In the end history proved her right. Thanks to her persistence Thalidomide was never approved for sale in the US.
Dr. Kelsey’s foresight and diligence were rewarded in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy honored her with the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. Dr. Kelsey’s actions led to the implementation of more thorough drug regulation policies in the U.S. The heroic centenarian retired to London, Ontario, Canada with her daughter after an illustrious career. She died in 2015.
Watch clip about Dr. Frances Kelsey and her battle to keep Thalidomide out of the US.