Frances Kelsey, a Canadian doctor and former medical officer at US Food and Drug Administration died at the age of 101. She is well known for her tenacity in keeping a dangerous drug off the U.S. Market.
She was born Frances Oldham in Cobble Hill, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, on July 24, 1914. In 1936, she enrolled at the University of Chicago, where she earned a doctorate in pharmacology in 1938. In 1960's she joined as an officer in the USFDA.
AdvertisementWilliam.S. Merrell Company of Cincinnati filed an application to the USFDA for marketing a sedative called Kevadon. The drug was already popular in European countries at that time and therefore the company was confident of getting a clean chit from the FDA. But Frances being a pharmacologist found something wrong with this drug and asked the manufacturer for more information.
She found that the drug better known by its generic name, thalidomide was causing thousands of babies in Europe, Britain, Canada and the Middle East to be born with flipperlike arms and legs and other defects.
The drug company raised lot of pressure against her to approve the drug. But she was very firm and saved millions of infants lives by rejecting it. She was hailed by citizens' groups and awarded honorary degrees. President John F. Kennedy signed the landmark law that she had inspired, and presented her with the nation's highest federal civilian service award.
"Her exceptional judgment in evaluating a new drug for safety for human use has prevented a major tragedy of birth deformities in the United States," said Kennedy.
She died less than 24 hours after receiving the Order of Canada in a private ceremony at her daughter's home in London, Ont.
In 2000 Dr. Kelsey was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Mead and other luminaries. She retired in 2005, and in 2010 was honored by Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the then F.D.A. administrator, as the first recipient of the award that continues to be given annually in her name.