William McBride (doctor)

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William Griffith McBride CBE AO (25 May 1927 – 27 June 2018) was an Australian obstetrician. He discovered the teratogenicity of thalidomide,[1][2][3][4] which resulted in the reduction of the number of drugs prescribed during pregnancy.


McBride was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.[5][6]

Thalidomide case[edit]

Dr McBride published a letter in The Lancet, in December 1961, noting a large number of birth defects in children of patients who were prescribed thalidomide,[7] after a midwife first suspected the drug was causing birth defects in the babies of patients under his care at Crown Street Women's Hospital in Sydney.[8] Dr. McBride was awarded a medal and prize money by the prestigious L'Institut de la Vie, a French Institute, in connection with his discovery, in 1971. Using the prize money, he established Foundation 41, a Sydney-based medical research foundation concerned with the causes of birth defects. Working with Dr P H Huang, he proposed that thalidomide caused malformations by interacting with the DNA of the dividing embryonic cells. This finding stimulated their experimentation, which showed that thalidomide may inhibit cell division in rapidly dividing cells of malignant tumors. This work was published in the journal "Pharmacology and Toxicology" in 1999 and has been rated in the top ten of the most important Australian medical discoveries.[citation needed]

Debendox case[edit]

McBride's involvement in the Debendox case is less illustrious.[9] In 1981 he published a paper indicating that the drug Debendox (marketed in the US as Bendectin) caused birth defects. His co-authors noted that the published paper contained manipulated data and protested[10] but their voices went unheard. Multiple lawsuits followed by patients and McBride was a willing witness for the claimants. Eventually, the case was investigated and, as a result, McBride was struck off the Australian medical register in 1993 for deliberately falsifying data.[11] An inquiry determined "we are forced to conclude that Dr. McBride did publish statements which he either knew were untrue or which he did not genuinely believe to be true, and in that respect was guilty of scientific fraud." He was reinstated to the medical register in 1998.[12][13][14]

The Bendectin case, and the subsequent removal of the drug from the US market, has had a number of consequences.[15] Firstly, there was an immediate increase in the rates of hospitalization for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.[16] Secondly, it created a treatment void in terms of having a safe medication that could be used for alleviating morning sickness in US pregnant women, a condition which, in the most severe form, called hyperemesis gravidarum, could be both life-threatening and cause women to terminate their pregnancy.[17]

The lack of availability of a safe and effective drug for the treatment of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy resulted in the use of other, less studied drugs in pregnancy.[15][18][19] Thirdly, it has been claimed that subsequent to the Bendectin experience, drug companies stayed away from developing medications for pregnant patients.[20] As a result, only a few medications were approved by the FDA for obstetrical indications in the past several decades.[21] Lastly, the perception that all medications are teratogenic increased among pregnant women and healthcare professionals.[22] The unfounded fear of using medications during pregnancy has precluded many women from receiving the treatment they require.[22] Leaving medical conditions untreated during pregnancy can result in adverse pregnancy outcomes or significant morbidity for both the mother and baby.[22] Ongoing education of physicians and the general public has resulted in improvements in the perception of medication use in pregnancy; however, further advances are required to overcome the devastating effects of the Bendectin saga.[15]


Dr McBride was nominated Man of the Year for 1962,[23] Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1969),[24] Father of the Year (1972) and Officer of the Order of Australia (1977).[25][26]


McBride died, aged 91, on 27 June 2018.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Papers of William McBride, ca. 1953-1996, National Library of Australia, accessed 26 July 2010
  2. ^ 1960s TimelineAustralian Broadcasting Corporation
  3. ^ Page 48 of The New Scientist, Page 48, Vol. 56 — published 5 October 1972
  4. ^ Dove, Frederick. Thalidomide apology insulting, campaigners say BBC News 1 September 2012. Accessed 31 March 2017
  5. ^ The most influential AustraliansThe Sydney Morning Herald
  6. ^ William Griffith McBride biography — The University of Melbourne
  7. ^ McCredie, Janet. The thalidomide story. Sydney Publishing (University of Sydney), 17 January 2016
  8. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2018-06-29/thalidomide-william-mcbride-flawed-character-norman-swan/9920608
  9. ^ Grant J (2007). Corrupted Science. Facts, Figures & Fun. p. 49f. ISBN 978-1-904332-73-2.
  10. ^ The Insider, Australian Story, 22 February 2001, accessed 26 July 2010
  11. ^ Thalidomide hero found guilty of scientific fraudThe New Scientist, 27 February 1991
  12. ^ "Time Magazine" Archived 3 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ Medical Tribunal of New South Wales Archived 20 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Dr. McBride hails end of the affair — "The Australian"
  15. ^ a b c Brent R. "Medical, social, and legal implications of treating nausea and vomiting of pregnancy" Am J Obstet Gynecol 2002 May;186(5 Suppl Understanding):S262-6
  16. ^ Kutcher, JS; Engle, A; Firth, J; Lamm, SH (2003). "Bendectin and birth defects. II: Ecological analyses". Birth Defects Research. 67 (2): 88–97. doi:10.1002/bdra.10034. PMID 12769504.
  17. ^ Mazzotta, P; Stewart, DE; Koren, G; Magee, LA (Mar 2001). "Factors associated with elective termination of pregnancy among Canadian and American women with nausea and vomiting of pregnancy". J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 22 (1): 7–12. doi:10.3109/01674820109049946.
  18. ^ Leeder, JS; Spielberg, SP; MacLeod, SM (Nov 1983). "Bendectin: the wrong way to regulate drug availability". Can Med Assoc J. 129 (10): 1085–7.
  19. ^ Mitchell AA, Gilboa SM, Werler MM, Kelley KE, Louik C, Hernández-Díaz S; National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Medication use during pregnancy, with particular focus on prescription drugs: 1976-2008" Am J Obstet Gynecol 2011 Jul;205(1):51.e1-8
  20. ^ Wing, DA; Powers, B; Hickok, D (2010). "U.S. Food and Drug Administration Drug Approval: Slow Advances in Obstetric Care in the United States". Obstetrics & Gynecology. 115 (4): 825–33. doi:10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181d53843. PMID 20308845.
  21. ^ Centerwatch. FDA Approved Drugs for Obstetrics/Gynecology (Women’s Health); as seen in: https://www.centerwatch.com/drug-information/fda-approved-drugs/therapeutic-area/11/obstetrics-gynecology-womens-health
  22. ^ a b c Koren, G; Levichek, Z (May 2002). "The teratogenicity of drugs for nausea and vomiting of pregnancy: perceived versus true risk". Am J Obstet Gynecol. 186 (5 Suppl): S248–52.
  23. ^ "Saviour of babies—The Man of the Year" - Article published on page 1 of The Daily Mirror (Sydney), Sydney, Friday, 28 December 1962.
  24. ^ It's an Honour: CBE
  25. ^ It's an Honour: AO
  26. ^ "Book: The Trouble with Medicine"
  27. ^ "William McBride, doctor who exposed dangers of thalidomide, dies". ABC News. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 28 June 2018.

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