A woman who was used in vaccine trials as a child at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork has launched legal action against pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).Mari Steed, who was adopted from the home by a family in the US, has confirmed to the Irish Examiner that her case, lodged at the High Court in London within the last month, is in its early stages. It is understood the case was lodged in London as the multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in Brentford, England.
In 2011, GSK released a data protection request to Ms Steed which confirmed she was part of a vaccine trial it carried out half a century earlier.
On March 12, Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman, wrote to Emma Natasha Walmsley, the company’s CEO, calling on GSK to make reparations to those affected by the trials.
The examination of concerns relating to vaccine trials was a key focus in the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes’ terms of reference.
The commission was required to establish the extent of compliance with relevant regulatory and ethical standards of the time of any systemic vaccine trials found to have been conducted on children in one or more of these institutions.
The commission identified a total of 13 vaccine trials which took place between 1922 and 1998, seven of these were conducted prior to 1973 in the institutions investigated, and the commission has identified a number of the children involved. 
The commission also identified clinical trials of non-commercial infant milk products in Bessborough and Pelletstown on at least two occasions in 1968 and 1969. These trials all involved either the Wellcome Foundation or Glaxo Laboratories.
Mr O’Gorman’s letter, seen by the Irish Examiner states: “It is recognised that these companies were separate commercial entities when the trials were conducted, although today they are part of GlaxoSmithKline.
“It is clear that the trials did not comply with the relevant regulatory or ethical standards of the time. 
“Consent was not obtained from the mothers of the children, or their guardians, and the necessary licences were not sought or granted in many cases. 
“The Commission identifies clear compliance failures in this regard and starkly notes that ‘no attempt seems to have been made to seek the consent of parents or guardians.’
“I believe that all relevant parties, including GSK, have a moral and ethical obligation to take appropriate action in response to this Report. This obligation goes beyond compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements. 
“In the context of the specific activities of the companies that now form part of GSK, I would ask GSK to reflect on how it can respond to the failures laid bare in the Commissions Report.
“Former residents, their families and supporters have raised a number of concerns with me in relation to the vaccine trials, including their sincerely held view that reparations should be forthcoming from GSK.
“Taking appropriate actions now could allow GSK to demonstrate its compassion and acknowledge its corporate responsibility for these trials.”
Meanwhile, the Garda examination of the Mother and Baby Home report remains ongoing, with a senior officer carrying out an examination.
A spokesperson said: “An Garda Síochána is aware of the ongoing concern and upset of persons who were residents of mother and baby homes, and has appointed the Garda National Protective Services Bureau to liaise with and advise local gardaí and/ or Divisional Protective Service Units in respect of any complaints received.”