The cyclical rise, fall and resurrection of thalidomide has become one of the most instructive stories in medicine, told most poignantly by Stephens and Brynner1 in their recent book. In the early 1950s, when pathogens were considered to be the primary causative agents of most human diseases, two chemists working for the pharmaceutical company Chemie Grunenthal heated the peptide pthalimidoglutaramide in an attempt to synthesize novel antibiotics. They obtained a compound with a three-ring structure, which they named thalidomide.

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