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Chemie Grünenthal GmbH

Chemie Grünenthal GmbH is a German pharmaceutical company, founded by the Wirtz family in Stolberg in 1946. Initially its main products were antibiotics, needed in post-war Germany because Allied occupation forces controlled penicillin products. The company successfully produced antibiotics at an industrial scale from 1948.

In the 1950s it wanted to expand with popular and lucrative tranquilisers (anti-anxiety drugs), and developed a seemingly safe sleeping drug called thalidomide. This was marketed from 1957 as Contergan, and in the UK as Distaval. In 1961 the German Widukind Lenz and the Australian William McBride independently warned of a link between thalidomide and birth defects. Grünenthal initially denied this, but the drug was withdrawn. A long criminal trial saw the firm’s researchers and managers accused of negligence. After this, the German government helped establish a foundation to support thalidomide victims.

In 1962, Grünenthal developed a pain-relieving drug called tramadol. Its success, plus a continuing line of antibiotics, saw Grünenthal expand internationally. The company particularly developed in South America from the late 1960s and is now present worldwide. Mainly it produces painkillers and birth-control drugs.

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Bibliography

T Stephens and R Brynner, Dark Remedy: The Impact of Thalidomide and its Revival as a Vital Medicine (Massachusetts: Perseus Publishing, 2001)

Grünenthal GmbH, 1946-2006: 60 Years of Grünenthal (Aachen: Grünenthal GmbH, 2006)

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