More than half a century after Thalidomide caused serious disability to hundreds of children, Grunenthal, the manufacturer for the drug has now apologised for its disastrous side effects.

The German firm sold the drug, primarily used for morning sickness, in the 1950s – but the treatment caused serious birth defects in a number of children, and was withdrawn in 1961.

These defects included missing or deformed limbs and extreme shortening of arms and legs, and malformations of the eyes and ears, genitals, heart, kidneys and digestive tract, as well as many fatalities.

Thalidomide Agency UK, which represents victims of the drug in the UK, says there are 458 people in the UK who have been affected - but that for every Thalidomide baby that lived, there were 10 that died.

The German firm has never apologised for what happened to these children - but last week Harald Stock, chief executive of Grunenthal, told those gathered at a special memorial in Germany for those affected by Thalidomide that his company was sorry for what had happened.

He said: “Thalidomide is and will always be part of our company’s history. We have a responsibility and we face it openly. On behalf of Grünenthal with its shareholders and all employees, I would like to take the opportunity at this moment of remembrance today to express our sincere regrets about the consequences of Thalidomide and our deep sympathy for all those affected, their mothers and their families.

“We see both the physical hardship and the emotional stress that the affected, their families and particularly their mothers, had to suffer because of Thalidomide and still have to endure day by day.”

He said that the company was "very sorry" for the fact that it had been silent for 50 years, but gave no explanation as to why – or why the firm chose this moment to express its regrets.

Charity says it needs more than an apology

But TAUK has questioned the firm’s regrets, saying it is not enough, and needed to “put their money where their mouth is” – ie, to pay direct compensation to all the victims of the drug, something it has not yet done.

Freddie Astbury, TAUK’s head consultant, said he thought the firm was making this apology due to court proceedings being brought in Australia.

He said: “It’s taken a long time for them to apologise. There are a lot of people damaged by Thalidomide struggling with health problems in the UK and around the world. So we welcome the apology, but how far do they want to go? It’s no good apologising if they won’t open discussions on compensation. They’ve got to seriously consider financial compensation for these people.”

New life for thalidomide

Celgene has now re-developed the drug under its chemical name thalidomide for multiple myeloma patients for whom high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplantation is considered inappropriate.