Thalidomide was drug discovery by scientists at the German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grünenthal (now Grünenthal GmbH) around 1953. The company had been set up as a soap maker just after WWII ended, to address the urgent market need for antibiotics. Heinrich Mueckter was appointed to head the discovery program based on his experience working with the German army's antiviral research program. In the course of preparing reagents for the work, Mueckter's assistant Wilhelm Kunz isolated a by-product, that was in turn recognized by pharmacologist Herbert Keller as an analog of glutethimide, a sedative, and the medicinal chemistry work turned to improving the lead compound into a suitable drug; the result was thalidomide. The toxicity was examined in several animals, and the drug was introduced in 1956 as a sedative.Researchers at Chemie Grünenthal also found that thalidomide was a particularly effective antiemetic that had an inhibitory effect on morning sickness. Hence, on October 1, 1957, the company launched thalidomide and began marketing it under the trade name Contergan.. Official website, undated. Retrieved 2 July 2018. See also It was proclaimed a "wonder drug" for insomnia, coughs, colds and headaches.During this time period, the use of medications during pregnancy was not strictly controlled, and drugs were not thoroughly tested for potential harm to the fetus. Thousands of pregnant women took the drug to relieve their symptoms. At the time of the drug's development, scientists did not believe any drug taken by a pregnant woman could pass across the placental barrier and harm the developing fetus, even though the effect of alcohol on fetal development had been documented by case studies on alcoholic mothers since at least 1957.See Rouquette (1957) cited by There soon appeared reports of findings of abnormalities in children being born, traced back to the use of the drug thalidomide. In late 1959, it was noticed that peripheral neuritis developed in patients who took the drug over a period of time, and it was only after this point that thalidomide ceased to be provided over the counter.Hence, while initially considered safe, the drug was responsible for Teratology deformities in children born after their mothers used it during pregnancies, prior to the third trimester. In November 1961, thalidomide was taken off the market due to massive pressure from the press and public. Experts estimate that the drug thalidomide led to the death of approximately 2,000 children and serious birth defects in more than 10,000 children, about 5,000 of them in West Germany. The regulatory authorities in East Germany did not approve thalidomide. One reason for the initially unobserved side effects of the drug and the subsequent approval in West Germany was that at that time drugs did not have to be tested for teratogenic effects. They had been tested on rodents only, as was usual at the time. 6. July 2011.In the UK, the British pharmaceutical company The Distillers Company (Biochemicals) Ltd, a subsidiary of Distillers Co. Ltd (now part of Diageo plc), marketed thalidomide under the brand name Distaval as a remedy for morning sickness throughout the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Their advertisement claimed that "Distaval can be given with complete safety to pregnant women and nursing mothers without adverse effect on mother or child...Outstandingly safe Distaval has been prescribed for nearly three years in this country." Around the world, more and more pharmaceutical companies started to produce and market the drug under license from Chemie Grünenthal. By the mid-1950s, 14 pharmaceutical companies were marketing thalidomide in 46 countries under at least 37 different trade names.In the U.S., representatives from Chemie Grünenthal approached Smith, Kline & French (SKF), now GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) with a request to market and distribute the drug in North America. A memorandum rediscovered in 2010 in the archives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that, as part of its in-licensing approach, Smith, Kline and French conducted animal tests and ran a clinical trial of the drug in the United States involving 875 people, including pregnant women, in 1956–57. In 1956, researchers at SKF involved in clinical trials noted that even when used in very high doses, thalidomide could not induce sleep in mice. And when administered at doses 50 to 650 times larger than that claimed by Chemie Grünenthal to be "sleep inducing", the researchers could still not achieve the hypnotic effect in animals that it had on humans. After completion of the trial, and based on reasons kept hidden for decades, SKF declined to commercialize the drug. Later, Chemie Grünenthal, in 1958, reached an agreement with William S Merrell Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, (Marion Merrell Dow#Richardson-Merrell, now part of Sanofi), to market and distribute thalidomide throughout the United States.The U.S. FDA refused to approve thalidomide for marketing and distribution. However, the drug was distributed in large quantities for testing purposes, after the American distributor and manufacturer Marion Merrell Dow#Richardson-Merrell had applied for its approval in September 1960. The official in charge of the FDA review, Frances Oldham Kelsey, did not rely on information from the company, which did not include any test results. Richardson-Merrell was called on to perform tests and report the results. The company demanded approval six times, and was refused each time. Nevertheless, a total of 17 children with thalidomide-induced malformations were born in the U.S.In Canada, the history of the drug thalidomide dates back to April 1, 1961. There were many different forms sold, with the most common variant being Talimol. Two months after Talimol went on sale, pharmaceutical companies sent physicians letters warning about the risk of birth defects. It was not until March 2, 1962, that both drugs were banned from the Canadian market by the FDD, and soon afterward physicians were warned to destroy their supplies.