German Health Minister Daniel Bahr has called on the pharmaceuticals industry to disclose records it may still hold on secret medication trials once done in former East Germany and paid for by Western firms.
Bahr's call for disclosure follows claims by the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" that before the fall of communism in 1989 at least 50,000 patients were tested - many without their knowledge – during 600 drugs trials at 50 clinics.
The magazine said its findings were based on previously unpublished documents, including archives of the former East German Health Ministry. It said funding for an inquiry report would be provided by present-day Germany's interior ministry.
"I demand that the pharmacy industry support this process and contribute to transparency," Bahr said, adding that his own ministry did not have such data.
Heike Taubert, the health minister of Germany's eastern regional state of Thuringia, said aside from pharmaceuticals firms it was important to examine clinic archives to see if patients had been informed at the time that they were being subjected to tests with experimental drugs for ailments such as heart disease and depression.
Unscrupulous, says victims' group
Rainer Wagner, the chairman of an association representing victims of the former East German communist region, said the Spiegel report showed "how authorities in the unjust GDR state pursued Western money and had no moral scruples."
"Capitalist firms had exploited the situation for their own purposes," Wagner told the "Berliner Zeitung" newspaper. Victims should be compensated, he said.
Ethnics upheld, say firms
On Tuesday, several pharmaceuticals firms, such as Novartis and Bayer, which in recent decades took over firms said by Spiegel to have been involved in the communist-era testing said at the time ethnical principles were adhered to.
On Monday, Berlin's renowned Charite hospital, which was the largest East German clinic before reunification, said it had launched its own historical probe into the claims.
"A proper scientific study is planned, but we are waiting for funding," said Charite spokeswoman Manuela Zingl.
ipj/kms (AP, AFP, epd, Reuters)