US Regulatory Response to Thalidomide (1950-2000)
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Thalidomide, a drug capable of causing fetal abnormalities (teratogen), has caused greater than ten thousand birth defects worldwide since its introduction to the market as a pharmaceutical agent. Prior to discovering thalidomide's teratogenic effects in the early 1960s, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not place regulations on drug approval or monitoring as it later did. By 1962, approximately 20,000 patients in the US had taken thalidomide as part of an unregulated clinical trial before any actions were taken to stop thalidomide's distribution. Due to thalidomide's effects on fetuses, both nationally and abroad, the US Congress passed the 1962 Kefauver-Harris Amendments to the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. These amendments imposed guidelines for the process of drug approval in the US and required that a drug be safe as well as effective before it could be approved and marketed. Thalidomide also influenced the FDA's creation of pregnancy categories; a ranking of drugs based on their effects on reproduction and pregnancy. Thalidomide motivated the laws on regulating and monitoring drugs developed in the US and by the FDA in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.