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Human guinea pigs in ’80s Germany?

Germany is confronting another chapter from its past - allegations that Western drug companies used more than 50,000 people in the former communist East as ‘human guinea pigs’ in 1980s medical trials.

News magazine Spiegel this week reported that a who’s who of big German, Swiss and US pharmaceutical companies made deals with the dictatorship to test medicines, sometimes without the knowledge of the patients. Several people were known to have died during trials, and some tests involved infants and delirious alcoholics, said the report on the agreements with the police state that collapsed with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Major drugs companies, some of which have taken over other firms in corporate mergers since, insist they stuck to the standards and laws of the times.

But calls have grown for full transparency into the agreements overseen by the State Security (Stasi) secret police to earn the communist state tens of millions in hard-currency Deutschmarks.

‘It was a nasty German-German deal’ in which profits were made on both sides of the Berlin Wall, Stasi Archives Commissioner Roland Jahn, who was a dissident-journalist in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), told the Zeit weekly on Thursday.

‘I am not surprised that medical tests were carried out in the GDR that didn’t meet the standards of democratic countries. The dictatorship was capable of a lot.’

A senior member of the opposition Greens party Volker Beck this week demanded a full investigation into what he called ‘the systematic circumvention of ethical and legal standards in drug trials by pharmaceutical companies in the GDR’.

Health Minister Daniel Bahr urged drugs companies to financially support an inquiry, while the Berlin Charite hospital announced it would search its archives to bring clarity.

The commissioner for questions on the former East Germany, Christoph Bergner, yesterday said he had ‘promised financial support’ to the Charite project, without mentioning amounts or details. It said some 600 clinical trials, including for blood pressure and depression drugs, were carried out.
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