Thalidomide (alpha-phthalimidoglutarimide), sold in Europe and Canada since 1959 under many trade names (Distaval, Contergan, Kevadon, etc.), and originally promoted by some companies as a “new, non-barbiturate” sedative with “no known toxicity”, has caused gross malformations in newborn infants whose mothers took the drug during pregnancy. Deformities of the extremities, or their absence, and maldevelopment of viscera were the most frequent effects of the drug (Lancet 1961, 2, 1351; 1962, 1, 45, 46, 303, 1128; Brit. med. J. 1962, 1, 792; Canad. med. Ass. J. 1962, 86, 462, 744). The number of affected infants is estimated by German physicians at more than 3000, and about two-thirds of these are expected to survive. R. W. Smithells (Lancet 1962, 1, 1270) estimates that in England and Wales thalidomide will have been responsible for at least 800 malformations.
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