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Dark Remedy: The Impact of Thalidomide and Its Revival as a Vital Medicine

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In this riveting medical detective story, Trent Stephens and Rock Brynner recount the history of thalidomide, from the epidemic of birth defects in the 1960's to the present day, as scientists work to create and test an alternative drug that captures thalidomide's curative properties without its cruel side effects. A parable about compassion-and the absence of it-Dark Reme In this riveting medical detective story, Trent Stephens and Rock Brynner recount the history of thalidomide, from the epidemic of birth defects in the 1960's to the present day, as scientists work to create and test an alternative drug that captures thalidomide's curative properties without its cruel side effects. A parable about compassion-and the absence of it-Dark Remedy is a gripping account of thalidomide's extraordinary impact on the lives of individuals and nations over half a century.


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In this riveting medical detective story, Trent Stephens and Rock Brynner recount the history of thalidomide, from the epidemic of birth defects in the 1960's to the present day, as scientists work to create and test an alternative drug that captures thalidomide's curative properties without its cruel side effects. A parable about compassion-and the absence of it-Dark Reme In this riveting medical detective story, Trent Stephens and Rock Brynner recount the history of thalidomide, from the epidemic of birth defects in the 1960's to the present day, as scientists work to create and test an alternative drug that captures thalidomide's curative properties without its cruel side effects. A parable about compassion-and the absence of it-Dark Remedy is a gripping account of thalidomide's extraordinary impact on the lives of individuals and nations over half a century.

30 review for Dark Remedy: The Impact of Thalidomide and Its Revival as a Vital Medicine

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brooke Ury

    7.5/10. Super interesting book! It follows the history of the drug thalidomide, from its shady beginnings to being available everywhere to causing severe birth defects and nerve damage to being outlawed and facing countless charges in court. The drug changed in many ways how we view and test drugs to be used by the public. The story of Frances Kelsey was highlighted, showing how perilous a situation the US was in. Possibly the most interesting part of the novel was the attempt to figure out how 7.5/10. Super interesting book! It follows the history of the drug thalidomide, from its shady beginnings to being available everywhere to causing severe birth defects and nerve damage to being outlawed and facing countless charges in court. The drug changed in many ways how we view and test drugs to be used by the public. The story of Frances Kelsey was highlighted, showing how perilous a situation the US was in. Possibly the most interesting part of the novel was the attempt to figure out how and why thalidomide worked after its removal from the public--not only was thalidomide re-discovered as a "wonder drug" to help cure diseases such as leprosy, certain cancers, and HIV, but it helped scientists discover crucial information about in vitro development. My only complaints are that the writing was only decent, the story was boring at times, especially in the legal battles, and it got very technical.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This is the story of the drug Thalidomide and how it was resurrected from ignominy to treat everything from arthritis to cancer. Thalidomide was introduced in Germany in 1957. Post WWII many Germans and Britons were suffering shell-shock and anxiety in the aftermath of constant air-raids and bombings. Sedatives were in high demand but barbiturates were dangerous with high instances of overdose a common problem. Thalidomide was released onto the market as a sedative so safe that it could be used This is the story of the drug Thalidomide and how it was resurrected from ignominy to treat everything from arthritis to cancer. Thalidomide was introduced in Germany in 1957. Post WWII many Germans and Britons were suffering shell-shock and anxiety in the aftermath of constant air-raids and bombings. Sedatives were in high demand but barbiturates were dangerous with high instances of overdose a common problem. Thalidomide was released onto the market as a sedative so safe that it could be used during pregnancy, it was considered so innocuous that it was even sold over the counter in many countries. A epidemic of birth defeats linked to Thalidomide proved this was not the case and later investigation uncovered it had been rushed to market with minimal testing. Those children born with the birth defeats and their families endured years of court cases to obtain compensation from the drug companies. The Thalidomide tragedy changed the way drugs were approved for market forever. Thalidomide was first brought back from ignominy to treat leprosy and was used in the early treatment of HIV before being used for a range of diseases affecting the immune system. This book is well written and researched and one of the authors Rock Brynner was treated with Thalidomide himself as a last resort for a disease that had resisted treatment from other drugs.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jas Reads

    I had to read this for school, so tbh I did not read the entire book in a lot of detail but rather focused on the bits that were important to my studies, and mostly skimmed through the rest. The book goes through the discovery of thalidomide, the spread, trials, errors, villains and heroes of the story, effects of the drug, banning and revival, mechanisms of action and of course victims' lives. I was pleasantly surprised. It reads nicely as a story, it doesn't have the textbook feel I thought it w I had to read this for school, so tbh I did not read the entire book in a lot of detail but rather focused on the bits that were important to my studies, and mostly skimmed through the rest. The book goes through the discovery of thalidomide, the spread, trials, errors, villains and heroes of the story, effects of the drug, banning and revival, mechanisms of action and of course victims' lives. I was pleasantly surprised. It reads nicely as a story, it doesn't have the textbook feel I thought it would, although there were a LOT of names being thrown around. Obviously, it was a huge occurrence so a lot of people were involved, but it was hard to keep track of everyone sometimes. The timelines were sometimes confusing as well because the story doesn't always follow a chronological timeline, but rather the authors write about different things happening in different parts of the world simultaneously, but in different chapters, so that could be a bit confusing and made it hard to put the whole story together. Overall, I thought it was a nice little book that really brought all aspects of the thalidomide disaster and I would recommend for people interested to learn more about it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This was such an interesting and sad book about the history of Thalomide. The authors trace the drug from its beginning: from the doctor who developed it and who had a questionable history, stories of the families whose children had suffered from phocomelia (malformations of the arms and legs) and to its revival of use in cases of leprosy, multiple myeloma and HIV. I found it to be thoughtful and well written.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bird

    Interesting history, poorly told Dark Remedy offers an accounting of the curious history of thalidomide, but it is unfortunately clunky to read, prone to pity or inspiration porn, and of an uneven narrative. The legal areas are delightful and marked by funny turns of phrase while much of the rest is dull or pandering.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brit McCarthy

    I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Brit reads some really strange books". And yeah, I do, but this one is actually prescribed reading for my breadth subject Drugs That Shape Society. It's been an interesting (although completely unrelated to my degree) subject that poses some interesting moral questions regarding the use of legal and nonlegal drugs in society. One of the drugs we study is thalidomide, hence the required reading of Dark Remedy. Dark Remedy was an interesting read about I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Brit reads some really strange books". And yeah, I do, but this one is actually prescribed reading for my breadth subject Drugs That Shape Society. It's been an interesting (although completely unrelated to my degree) subject that poses some interesting moral questions regarding the use of legal and nonlegal drugs in society. One of the drugs we study is thalidomide, hence the required reading of Dark Remedy. Dark Remedy was an interesting read about a drug I knew nothing about at the start of the book. Thalidomide is a chemical compound manufactured in the 50s by German pharmaceutical company Grunenthal, marketed as a sedative for use in patients with anxiety, colds, headaches, insomnia among other conditions. Despite the lack of research and testing, thalidomide was promised to be "completely safe", so much so that pregnant women wouldn't even bother to inform their doctor that they had taken it. About a year after it became accessible to the public, often sold over the counter without prescriptions, the complaints started to roll in. The most common side effect to be linked to thalidomide was polyneuritis, or nerve damage. Grunenthal brushed these reports off and swept them under the rug, all the while hiring a private detective to keep an idea on patients and doctors who reported them. Then came the epidemic of children born in Germany with rare birth defects, including missing ears, reduced limbs or extra toes or fingers, among other defects. At first it was thought they must be genetic conditions and the link to thalidomide had not yet been made. Meanwhile, in Australia a obstetrician named Dr. William McBride treated a patient with severe morning sickness for whom all other drugs had failed. He had just been introduced to the newest drug, suggested as a sedative for patients in labour, and administered it to his patient. It worked and so he continued to prescribe it, never knowing the sentence he was giving their children. It wasn't until the children were born that Dr. McBride started to look into the causes of their birth defects. By the end of that same weekend he was convinced thalidomide was to blame, and he began to conduct thalidomide trials on mice and guine pigs. Dr. William McBride was the first person to connect thalidomide with birth defects, however it didn't stop the epidemic straight away. Thousands of babies and families were affected by thalidomide before it was taken off the shelves, forever having ruined their lives. There were many court cases and although compensation was awarded, Grunenthal and the British company Distillers were never criminally charged. When thalidomide was finally taken off the shelves and made no longer available, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. But thalidomide was not gone forever. Within the last twenty to thirty years, it has been discovered that thalidomide can be used to successfully treat conditions such as leprosy, myeloma, HIV and various cancers. Thalidomide's revival, as it is called, improved the quality of life of many people whose diseases had ostracised them from the community. At first it could only be obtained illegally, over the American/Mexico border but after years of deliberation and consideration, thalidomide could be prescribed by doctors again, complete with the provision of birth control and a high understanding of the risks involved. What may have come as a surprise was the support of the "thalidomiders", those that had been born with defects caused by thalidomide who had managed to live past childhood. In a compassionate statement by Randy Warren, founder of the Thalidomide Victims' Association of Canada, he expressed that they could not allow people to suffer by restricting their use of thalidomide. All they asked was that the education of the effects of thalidomide be made clear to potential users, which could only be done if the drug was legal. A photo of a thalidomide child is included in every prescription of thalidomide. I found this book to be the right mix of science, anecdotes and empathy. As a Science student, I understand all the talk of DNA, clinical trials and other science speak but as a person I was touched by the stories of thalidomide survivors and the people who worked tirelessly, such as Frances Kelsey, to make sure thalidomide didn't cause more damage. Dark Remedy shows us what went wrong, the carelessness of the manufacturer, the blatant disregard for the rights of the victims. It gives us the stories of those who suffered because of thalidomide and also those whose lives were saved by it. It was an insightful read that opened up my eyes to a tragedy I didn't even know about - and the villains and heroes of the story. 3.5 stars.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    On the whole, an accessible story of thalidomide, the horrific damage it caused, how it miraculously was kept off the US market leading to many of today's requirements for premarket testing of drugs, and its ultimate resurrection. I really wanted to give it 5 stars, but had to take one off for the authors' lack of research displayed in Chapter 9. The description of the IND and NDA processes are at best confusing, and contain some glaring errors. These are rather important in a story of the testi On the whole, an accessible story of thalidomide, the horrific damage it caused, how it miraculously was kept off the US market leading to many of today's requirements for premarket testing of drugs, and its ultimate resurrection. I really wanted to give it 5 stars, but had to take one off for the authors' lack of research displayed in Chapter 9. The description of the IND and NDA processes are at best confusing, and contain some glaring errors. These are rather important in a story of the testing and approval of a drug. I chalk it up to the scientist being a bench scientist and not actively involved in clinical research, but all the more reason to have done his homework. However, his passion for his work did shine in Chapter 11.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    Thalidomide was the prescription given to pregnant women in the 70's for nausea - among other things. It resulted in horrendous birth defects and other drastic and tragic side-dffects. This book exposes the conspiracy involving the pharmecuetical company that "tested" this drug and also discusses how this drug was approved by so many developed countries. Interestingly enough, The United States was the only one NOT approve it's use. This book may be dry, but I learned a lot and I would recommend Thalidomide was the prescription given to pregnant women in the 70's for nausea - among other things. It resulted in horrendous birth defects and other drastic and tragic side-dffects. This book exposes the conspiracy involving the pharmecuetical company that "tested" this drug and also discusses how this drug was approved by so many developed countries. Interestingly enough, The United States was the only one NOT approve it's use. This book may be dry, but I learned a lot and I would recommend it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    I had to stop reading this book because it was too technical and sad. Too many players in the drug companies and it really got me upset about big business being blithely ignorant about the health and wellness of normal everyday people.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Grazyna Nawrocka

    We live at the time of pandemic, and this book makes you wonder about reliability of pharmaceutical companies. The statement that it sometimes happens that there is a medicine in search of disease (quite opposite as it should be) is really scary. Thalidomide caused a lot of misery, was supposed to help sleep, but resulted in many malformed or prematurely dead children. I was very surprised to find out that it can be transferred in semen. This would indicate that many more children were unknowingl We live at the time of pandemic, and this book makes you wonder about reliability of pharmaceutical companies. The statement that it sometimes happens that there is a medicine in search of disease (quite opposite as it should be) is really scary. Thalidomide caused a lot of misery, was supposed to help sleep, but resulted in many malformed or prematurely dead children. I was very surprised to find out that it can be transferred in semen. This would indicate that many more children were unknowingly affected. The reason I read this book is that in the other resource, one of AIDS sufferers complained about limiting thalidomide research to cancer patients, although the medicine offered strong promise to cure his disease. It turned out that in 2000 the pill was used to deal with 130 different diseases like leprosy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and other less commonly known ailments, but there was much better and safer treatment discovered for AIDS. Although thalidomide caused extensive nerve damage if used over long period of time and in wrong dosages, it was still used if there was no better option. I have no personal interest in this subject area, yet the book was very interesting, and I enjoyed reading it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Judy Egnew Ness

    This book was published in 2001, but it's still a fascinating medical tale. Being a "Baby Boomer" born during the thalidomide birth defect tragedy, I grew up hearing the stories and saw photos of babies born with flippers instead of arms and legs. This book covers the development and unethical promotion of thalidomide by drug companies that had not tested its safety, the resulting, epidemic of deformed babies, the lawsuits and trials, and the political-economic powers that contributed to the tra This book was published in 2001, but it's still a fascinating medical tale. Being a "Baby Boomer" born during the thalidomide birth defect tragedy, I grew up hearing the stories and saw photos of babies born with flippers instead of arms and legs. This book covers the development and unethical promotion of thalidomide by drug companies that had not tested its safety, the resulting, epidemic of deformed babies, the lawsuits and trials, and the political-economic powers that contributed to the tragedy. Part mystery, part detective story, part political expose, and part science textbook, it continues to the end of the 20th century as science began to understand the mechanisms of limb-development and how thalidomide impaired that development. Then it was discovered thalidomide can successfully treat complications of leprosy and multiple myeloma.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Hodge

    The history of this drug and how it tied into major reforms in the USA and the UK is incredibly fascinating. The writing of the book itself is pretty dry and my edition had a tenant/tenet error, but the subject matter itself is interesting enough that it's worth getting past that. There's incredibly heartbreaking stories and a lot of evil, callous disregard for human life contained within these pages, but there are also examples of the best of humanity, and that's always been a tried-and-true rec The history of this drug and how it tied into major reforms in the USA and the UK is incredibly fascinating. The writing of the book itself is pretty dry and my edition had a tenant/tenet error, but the subject matter itself is interesting enough that it's worth getting past that. There's incredibly heartbreaking stories and a lot of evil, callous disregard for human life contained within these pages, but there are also examples of the best of humanity, and that's always been a tried-and-true recipe for a great read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mv

    This story is unbelievable, but actually 100% true. I read this for work to better understand the origins of the clinical trial process. This story is tragic and complex and a good reminder of what's at stake This story is unbelievable, but actually 100% true. I read this for work to better understand the origins of the clinical trial process. This story is tragic and complex and a good reminder of what's at stake

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chloe

    This book certainly dates itself throughout but impressively condenses thalidomide's story into about 200 pages. I'd recommend it to those in the health sciences and perhaps anyone curious about drug development and regulation, the immune system, and patient autonomy. This book certainly dates itself throughout but impressively condenses thalidomide's story into about 200 pages. I'd recommend it to those in the health sciences and perhaps anyone curious about drug development and regulation, the immune system, and patient autonomy.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leo Chi

    This is a prescribed book in my university subject "drugs that shape society". It closely scrutinized the development, marketing of thalidomide, and the epidemic side-effects that caused polyneuritis and numerous birth-defects. It further investigated the potential causes of these side-effects, and the birth of novel regulations following reform. The financial ambition (and thus the deliberate research misconduct) of the pharmaceutical industry (namely GrĂ¼nenthal and several other companies in the This is a prescribed book in my university subject "drugs that shape society". It closely scrutinized the development, marketing of thalidomide, and the epidemic side-effects that caused polyneuritis and numerous birth-defects. It further investigated the potential causes of these side-effects, and the birth of novel regulations following reform. The financial ambition (and thus the deliberate research misconduct) of the pharmaceutical industry (namely GrĂ¼nenthal and several other companies in the UK, US and Canada etc.) and the lack of effective regulations were some of the many reasons that gave rise to this tragedy in the post-World War II era. However, it contributed immeasurably to the improved research and approval scheme for novel therapeutics. As a student majoring in biochemistry, I enjoyed the scientific side of the narrative from the author. He emphasized the critical reasoning from key figures that served to avoid the escalation of this tragedy (Dr. Kelsey), to unravel the correlation between applications of the drug and the birth-defects, and to illustrate the mechanism of action (the author himself was a researcher contributed greatly to this understanding). The well-crafted narrative demonstrated the importance of critical thinking and scientific integrity, which effectively prevented the tragedy from escalation. Thalidomide was not merely demonized in this book - the invaluable application of the drug in the context of leprosy (especially ENL), HIV symptoms, cancer, pyoderma and multiple myeoloma demonstrated its effectiveness in ameliorating inflammatory (and other) diseases and saving numerous lives. However, when describing some of the key figures and events, the author could get slightly subjective (understandable since it was such a notorious event), which diminished the neutral scientific attitude to some extent. Another thing that baffled me was the jiggle cage experiment, where the method was claimed to be dependent on the reaction between a platinum wire and a sulfuric acid bath. If the platinum used was not an alloy and the recount was accurate, I recommend the person who purchased the wire to consult Consumer's Rights... Overall this book is very insightful and informative. Thanks for this amazing study.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Erceg

    I'm really more of a reader of fiction, but am trying to expand my horizons lately. So, I did find parts of the book to drag and be a little bland, but perhaps that is just my preference for fiction taking over. All in all, an interesting account of thalidomide's initial introduction into the market, as well as its revival. Especially interesting to me, as I work in the medical field with patients currently being treated with Revlimid (mentioned in Dark Remedy as CDC 501). However, I did note one I'm really more of a reader of fiction, but am trying to expand my horizons lately. So, I did find parts of the book to drag and be a little bland, but perhaps that is just my preference for fiction taking over. All in all, an interesting account of thalidomide's initial introduction into the market, as well as its revival. Especially interesting to me, as I work in the medical field with patients currently being treated with Revlimid (mentioned in Dark Remedy as CDC 501). However, I did note one discrepancy. On page 161, "among patients who undergo allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (i.e., of their own marrow)..." - Which is incorrect. Bone marrow transplantation using your own marrow is autologous. Allogeneic transplants are from matched donors. Not a big deal, but incorrect none the less, and so makes me questions some other facts stated.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fishface

    An unbelievable story. The world's most reviled drug, taken (mostly) off the market and finally studied properly, proves to be a real lifesaver for people who can't get help any other way. But meanwhile, are users truly safe? The authors skirt around the fact that the stuff has really been in circulation all along, with or without proper permission -- they skip entirely, for instance, over the fact that an unstated number of thalidomiders were born in the USA (I know a couple myself) even though An unbelievable story. The world's most reviled drug, taken (mostly) off the market and finally studied properly, proves to be a real lifesaver for people who can't get help any other way. But meanwhile, are users truly safe? The authors skirt around the fact that the stuff has really been in circulation all along, with or without proper permission -- they skip entirely, for instance, over the fact that an unstated number of thalidomiders were born in the USA (I know a couple myself) even though the FDA never approved the stuff for use here. What about them?

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bea

    An interesting read. It was all new to me. A few parts dragged, especially near the end. Most of the impact came earlier in the book, and by the end most of the steam seemed to have dissipated. Altogether, though, it was an enjoyable and educational trip through the history and consequences of thalidomide use. I'd recommend it for anyone interested in the drug or the medical climate in the first half of the twentieth century. An interesting read. It was all new to me. A few parts dragged, especially near the end. Most of the impact came earlier in the book, and by the end most of the steam seemed to have dissipated. Altogether, though, it was an enjoyable and educational trip through the history and consequences of thalidomide use. I'd recommend it for anyone interested in the drug or the medical climate in the first half of the twentieth century.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    It's for school, not something I'd normally pick up. And it's as tough to read as you would expect for a book about a Nazi doctor who poisoned thousands of children. But there is good research and some neat stories of heroes here, too. Not one I'd read for "fun", but I'm glad I read it. It's for school, not something I'd normally pick up. And it's as tough to read as you would expect for a book about a Nazi doctor who poisoned thousands of children. But there is good research and some neat stories of heroes here, too. Not one I'd read for "fun", but I'm glad I read it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey Tilyard

    Very informative, and interesting facts about the consequences of Thalidomide, but sometimes hard to read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Meggan Newland

    Again to your science folk, esp those in research, loved this. Thalidomide related birth defects changed the FDA requirements for new drug approval. Such a cool story of its revival too.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Clem

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alyce

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lathis

  25. 4 out of 5

    John W

  26. 4 out of 5

    Vinny

  27. 5 out of 5

    Josh

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jaime

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trisha

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ollie F

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