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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

New Science and Old Drugs in Litigation – Thalidomide Back in the News After a Multi-Million D

Thalidomide claims are back in the popular press after a newly announced settlement in a class action case pending in Australia; the case was filed by Australia’s Peter Gordon. The claims are significant for several reasons, including the fact that they involve new claims involving old drugs, and modern science can now further explain such injuries. The case apparently involves a new settlement for several million dollars, as described in an article from the Washington Post.

Over 50 years ago, thalidomide was marketed for pregnant women as a drug said to reduce morning sickness. As it turned out, the drugs consumed by the mothers resulted in extensive birth defects in over 10,000 children in many countries. Accordingly, a relatively small amount of litigation went mainly through the UK after the world learned that pregnant mothers who took thalidomide sometimes gave birth to children without arms or legs on either side of their bodies, a condition known as phocomelia. Later, a modest compensation UK fund was established, and then occasionally “topped up.”

Today, new thalidomide claims are being brought in courts around the world as plaintiffs seek compensation for injuries now better understood due to new work in molecular biology. For example, plaintiff’s lawyers now can and do point for support to a 2009 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study provided insights into the molecular biology of how, why and when thalidomide blocks blood vessel formation. More recently, Japanese scientists used zebrafish and chicks to find further specifics about the workings of thalidomide. They then published a 2010 paper which identifies the protein to which thalidomide binds, thereby disrupting normal bodily processes. Thus, today, scientists appear to have found and provided a pretty thorough explanation of a bodily harm process that was a mystery fifty years ago.

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