Distilbène® diethylstilbestrol image
Distilbène® diethylstilbestrol drugs of 5 & 25mg. Image courtesy of Réseau DES France.

Diethylstilbestrol or DES was sold under many names including Distilbène®, Stilboestrol-Borne®, Benzestrol®, Chlorotrianisene®, Estrobene® and Estrosyn® to name just a few. Many companies manufactured and marketed this drug under more than 200 different brand names.

Distilbène®, prescribed to my mum throughout her pregnancy, was manufactured by Ucépha and sold by UCB Pharma in France.

DES was not only sold generically under a multitude of brand names such as Distilbène® but also commonly administered in different shapes and forms: tablets, injections, vaginal suppositories and sometimes even as an ingredient in pregnancy vitamins.

Distilbène® diethylstilbestrol image
Distilbène® diethylstilbestrol 1mg tablets.

In America alone there were 267 drug companies that made and distributed DES and other similar synthetic estrogens because it was unpatented and easily produced. Diethylstilboestrol, first synthesized in 1938 in the UK, was never patented because patenting drugs for profit was against the policy of the University College London professors who used public funds to develop DES.

In 1971, Diethylstilbestrol was found to be a teratogen, causing devastating DES side effects in the children born to pregnant women. Despite warnings to discontinue using it in pregnancy, Distilbène® continued to be prescribed to pregnant women in France until 1977 and continued to be used in other conditions through the 1990s.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention DES website for a list of all the names under which DES has been sold in the United States and DES Réseau France for an international list compiled by DES Action International.