Drug firms bought East German patients to use as human guinea pigs

Bruchmüller described how the patient in the bed next to him suddenly died of a  heart attack

Berlin

Communist East Germany allowed Western drug companies to use its medical patients as unwitting guinea pigs for tests with untried pharmaceuticals in return for hundreds of thousands in hard currency, a television documentary by Germany’s ARD television channel has revealed.

The disturbing disclosures about the former communist state’s patients-for-cash scheme comes only weeks after an admission by the Swedish furniture giant Ikea that East German political prisoners were used to make its products before the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

The ARD documentary Tests and the Dead, which was aired for the first time this week, sheds light on other dubious practices East Germany resorted to in an attempt to sustain its failing economy.

The film reveals how Western pharmaceutical companies deliberately turned to cash-strapped Eastern Bloc countries in their search for human guinea pigs after the 1960s Thalidomide scandal which had suddenly obliged them to carry out rigorous tests on their products before they could be sold. In the West, the law stipulated that any patients taking part in drug tests had to be fully informed of the risks involved. However, in Communist East Germany such restrictions appear to have been waived in an increasingly desperate effort to procure enough hard currency to rescue an ailing economy and a crippled health system.

Using information gleaned from East German Stasi files, the film shows how, in 1983, Communist Party Central Committee members hatched a secret deal with Western drug companies enabling them to test their unlicensed products on unwitting patients by using specially selected doctors and clinics. Hubert Bruchmüller, a former East German who is now lives on a disability allowance because of a heart complaint, recalled in the film how he was used as an unwitting guinea pig. The documentary makers showed that without his knowledge, he had been given the drug Spirapril made by the pharmaceutical company Sandoz, while being treated for a heart complaint in a clinic in the East German city of  Lotsau in the late 1980s.

Mr Bruchmüller described how the patient in the bed next to him suddenly died of a heart attack. “They just went ahead and did this, because they were told to do so,” he told the film makers. Six of the 17 patients in the Lotsau heart clinic died before doctors were ordered to stop testing according to Stasi file evidence unearthed by the film makers.

In another case, Annelise Lehrer, the widow of a former East German heart patient discovered that her husband Gerhard had been part of a batch of patients who were unwittingly subjected to testing for the blood pressure drug Ramipril, which was developed by the former Hoechst company in 1989.

Gerhard Lehrer died soon after his release from an East German hospital in 1989. His wife discovered that in keeping with Hoechst’s testing procedure, he had been part of a group which was given placebos and had received no treatment for his heart condition.

By 1988, East Germany was said to have signed a total of 165 contracts with Western companies for drug testing. The film makers said it had been impossible to put an exact figure on the amount earned, although studies suggested that Western companies had paid the equivalent of €430,000 (£350,000) to the Communist regime to test their products on the sick.

The makers of Tests and the Dead said they had identified the individuals who had organised drug tests for Hoechst in East Germany, but all of them had categorically refused to be interviewed. Only one former East German doctor was prepared to comment about his role as a drug tester and neither the pharmaceutical industry associations nor the ministries responsible said they had evidence about drug testing in the former East Germany.

Only the French pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi-Adventis, which is a successor company to Hoechst, allowed the film makers access to its files.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before