If there is one singular work that would define Francis Oldham Kelsey, that would be her crusade against thalidomide. With her passing at the age of 101, the tenacious physician is remembered for her firm stand against the dangerous drug and for keeping it away from U.S. consumers.
Kelsey died barely a day after she was awarded the Order of Canada during a private ceremony at her daughter's home here.
Dr. Kelsey After an early career in the academe, Kelsey worked as a drug reviewer for the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). One of her first works was to examine the drug thalidomide, which was then already approved for use in Canada and in 20 other countries as a cure for morning sickness and insomnia among pregnant women. Despite pressures from the manufacturer, Kelsey withheld the approval until further studies are conducted.
She also requested for more information from drug makers that would counter the claim of an earlier study that documents the nervous system side effect of the drug. Kelsey's firm stand was eventually vindicated after it was found that thalidomide is linked to birth defects in Europe. Likewise, birth defects were also reported in Canada, Australia and Japan. Further research found out that thalidomide pierced through the placental barrier which leads to birth defects among the newborns. Thalidomide lawsuits have been eventually slapped against the manufacturers.
Last Thursday, Kelsey was honored with the insignia of Member of the Order of Canada. According to Kelsey's daughter, Christine Kelsey, the ceremony was originally slated last September, but her mother's weakening health made it impossible for her to make it to the ceremony.
In 2010, the British government issued an official statement, apologizing for the effect of the drugs to the victims. The government also agreed to pay £20 million ($31 million) to the victims. In Australia and New Zealand, a class action lawsuit against British manufacturer Diageo Scotland Ltd was settled. The victims were compensated with 89 million Australian dollars ($81 million).