THE GATEKEEPER: Frances Kelsey and the Unlikely Heroes Who Foiled the Greatest Pharmaceutical Scandal of the 20th Century



In 2016, Jennifer Vanderbes began work on a nonfiction book about the thalidomide scandal of the 1960s. Inspired by the actions of Dr. Frances Kelsey - the FDA Medical Reviewer who fought to keep the drug off the American market - Vanderbes began to research the American side of the story, which had never been written about in depth.


Following an immersive investigation—uncovering Kelsey’s extensive public and personal archives, reviewing thousands of pages of  FDA documents and court records - Vanderbes discovered that there were many more American victims and survivors of thalidomide than previously reported by the FDA or the press, and that after decades of isolation from one another, these individuals were beginning to connect. 


For the past several years, with the help of Sloan Foundation Grant and a Public Scholar Award from the NEH, Vanderbes has travelled around the United States interviewing the US thalidomide survivors, bringing their personal stories into the narrative for the first time. She now works closely with the Board of their newly-formed nonprofit (US Thalidomide Survivors) to advocate for a correction to the historical record and to support a campaign for public recognition. 


THE GATEKEEPER tells the story of the largest pharmaceutical scandal of all time, spanning the globe, exploring the fascinating heroes - doctors, journalists, and parents - who helped stop distribution of thalidomide in the 1960s, while also painting a portrait of the survivors living with the legacy of the drug.