“I will never get my father back”: How the neurotoxic U.S. Army antimalarial drug tafenoquine destroyed the lives of countless Australian service families

It’s not fair on them, to grow up and have a parent have to go through this. I’ve destroyed not just my life. Everyone around me really. All for the sake of some trial drug I was made to take.

Mr Aaron King, Australian Army “Study 033” tafenoquine trial subject

THIS post highlights the devastating impact that tafenoquine has had on hundreds of the families of soldiers who where subjected to the notorious Australian Army Malaria Institute (AMI) drug trials in Bougainville and East Timor at the turn of the century.

Aaron King was one of 492 tafenoquine subjects in the AMI Study 033, involving a total of 654 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) while deployed on peacekeeping duties in East Timor in 2000-2001. Prior to the deployment, the soldiers were given “loading doses” of 600 mg tafenoquine, then 200 mg weekly for the rest of their seven month deployment. Despite the experiences of Aaron and many of his fellow soldiers, the trial report eventually published in 2010 did not include a single severe neuropsychiatric event report. For this and other reasons, the published report is believed to be fraudulent.

This was one of a series of tafenoquine drug trials undertaken by the Australian Defence Forces as part of a commercial agreement with the pharmaceutical industry which a former Director of the U.S. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) conceded was “naive” and “desperate.” Tafenoquine is a product of the same WRAIR antimalarial drug discovery program as mefloquine. Both drugs are known to be neurotoxic. Despite the concerns of hundreds of the drug trial subjects like Aaron, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity (USAMMDA) continued to commercialize the drug, in a contract with 60 Degrees Pharmaceuticals worth $18+ million, until in 2018 it was granted regulatory approval as Arakoda® in the U.S. and Kodatef® in Australia.

During last year’s Australian Senate Inquiry into the AMI drug trials, more than 100 written submissions were made by the participants or their families, while dozens testified in person at hearings held across the country. Below is the full written submission from Aaron’s daughter, Ms Angela King. Mrs Raelene King’s written submission is here and a transcript of her oral testimony is here. Included below is a video she made while preparing her written submission.

My name is Angela King,

I am writing to you about my Father Aaron King who was given Tafenoquine.

As a young girl growing up I had a great life. I loved going to the park and kicking the soccer ball with my dad. My dad was always there to read me stories before bed, help me with my homework and on certain nights we would have a game of Yahtzee.

I remember my dad joining the army, it had always been his dream and he used to talk it about with so much pride. I remember him loving his job, he wasn’t home much but when he was he always had time for me.

Things changed when he came back from East Timor in 2001. My dad left to go overseas to fight for our country and never came back.

What did come back was the shell of him, but he wasn’t inside, he wasn’t my dad. 

It wasn’t until 2017 that I leant he was given a drug called Tafenoquine and after reading about it, everything that was happening with my dad made sense. This wasn’t PTSD, this was poison.

I might have only been 6, but I remember like it was yesterday. My father turned to alcohol to cope, he was rarely home and this affected me deeply.

He was constantly in and out of hospital and rehabilitation centres, and still is to this day. I was lucky to have such a strong mother, but I grew up a lot faster then what I should have, having to help my mum with my younger siblings while dad wasn’t around.

I was put into counseling at the young age of 10. I was depressed, and had bad anxiety as I was constantly walking on eggshells waiting for the bomb to blow. 
I left home at the age of 15. I struggled concentrating in school as I was always worrying about what was going on at home and always had the fear of getting a call to say my dad had taken his life.

I could never understand why my dad was the way he was. I researched a lot about PTSD over the years. I knew everything about it, but with my dad deteriorating I knew there was more to it.

After dad having more hospital admissions I was still struggling to cope and turned to drugs. Still to this day i struggle with my own mental issues as a result of the way he is. 17 years later there has been minimal improvement with his mental state. I have read up a lot about the drug he was given, and read many stories that others have shared, and I know deep in my heart the drug Tafenoquine is to blame for making him like this.

I will never get my father back that I knew as a young girl, and every girl needs their father.

He was mistreated and used as a guinea pig along with many other people who served out country.

Is this your way of saying thank you for keeping our country safe?

By leaving them like this without any help or explanation?

Yours Sincerely,

Angela King

Over the coming weeks, we will continue to post more testimonies like these, highlighting not only the personal impact of tafenoquine on the affected service personnel and their families, but the systematic fraud, abuse and corruption which paved the way for this drug to be approved by drug regulatory agencies including the FDA and the Australian TGA.

“There is blood on the hands of the Army Malaria Institute,” says retired Australian Army Warrant Officer and tafenoquine test subject

“THE fraud and corruption involved in these [tafenoquine and mefloquine] drug trials is huge,” said retired Australian Army Warrant Officer Colin Brock in his testimony to a 2018 Senate inquiry hearing in the northern Queensland garrison city of Townsville. “The lying and deceit is incomprehensible.”

Warrant Officer Colin Brock, serving in Afghanistan

In today’s post we return to the Australian Army Malaria Institute’s (AMI) notorious clinical trials of tafenoquine in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), East Timor and Australia at the turn of the century. As part of a commercial arrangement with the pharmaceutical industry which a former Director of the U.S. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) described in 2018 as “naive” and “desperate”, the Australian Defense Forces subjected almost 4,000 troops to a series of highly controversial antimalarial drug trials considered to have been “manifestly unethical.”

One of these trials was the AMI “Study 033” for tafenoquine vs mefloquine prophylaxis involving a total of 654 Australian troops from the Townsville-based 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) and supporting units. Among the 1 RAR battalion group soldiers deployed to the East Timor UN peacekeeping mission for seven months in 2000-2001, 492 were given the experimental drug tafenoquine, while a further 162 were given mefloquine.

Eight years after this trial, scientists from WRAIR (which developed both drugs) found that “tafenoquine is the only antimalarial more neurotoxic than mefloquine,” a drug from the same quinolines family, widely regarded as a suicide pill.

Mr Brock’s 20-year Army career included operational deployments to Somalia, East Timor and Afghanistan. During the East Timor peacekeeping deployment, then Corporal Brock commanded a mortar section of nine soldiers. He was one of dozens of drug trial subjects who testified to the Senate inquiry, and one of more than a hundred who made written submissions. Here are some highlights from his hard-hitting testimony, which can be found in full here.

At the beginning of the year 2000, 1 RAR was warned out for deployment to East Timor. I was a section commander in Mortar Platoon, Support Company. My section consisted of nine men, including me.

I am not sure of the specific date—I think it was sometime in September 2000—a battalion parade was held on the main parade ground of 1 RAR. We were formed up in companies and the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Calagari, briefed the battalion on a new malaria drug or drugs that we all were to take to prevent malaria. We were told that it was a trial to benefit the Defence Force. I now know the drugs to be mefloquine and tafenoquine. Lieutenant Colonel John Calagari then informed the battalion, ‘This drug is voluntary, but if you do not consent to take this drug, you will not deploy to East Timor.’ I can categorically state, 100 per cent, that he did say this. There was numerous talk about it after the parade. No-one in the battalion was going to say, ‘No, we won’t take it,’ as everyone wanted to deploy. If you knew about the Army culture, that is what you would want to do. If we knew of the consequences of these drugs, I and a lot of others would have told them to find someone else.

In my later years in Defence, I knew there was something not right with me. I thought it might have been PTSD, as I’d completed numerous deployments to some of the worst countries on Earth, but it was something else. My hearing was failing. There was ringing in my ears. I was having dizzy spells; vertigo issues, which I still have today; bouts of depression and anxiety; and anger issues. But, like a lot of people in Defence, you just put up with it. I loved being deployed, and nothing really fazed me.

I think it was in March 2016 that a forum was held at the Townsville RSL, which I attended with a number of other people who were severely affected by these drugs. A number of dignitaries attended, with key speakers and subject matter experts. Defence was represented by Air Vice Marshal Tracy Smart, Commander Joint Health. I have no words for Tracy Smart. All she did was deny any wrongdoing by Defence, saying the drug trials were conducting morally and ethically, and there was nothing wrong with us. She had no answers for us, just denial. One of my close friends, Chris Styles, had an open argument with her at the forum which was captured on visual and audio. Chris committed suicide less than two months later. Tracy Smart is a Defence toe-the-line person. She is fully aware of these drugs and does not care.

In May 2016, I was contacted by Brigadier Andrew Dunn as part of the IGADF inquiry into allegations of unethical and unlawful use of antimalarial drugs in Defence. This was a phone interview which lasted around 90 minutes. I answered truthfully all the questions asked of me. I have a clear recollection of these events, and one in particular. The main question I was asked was: what did Lieutenant Colonel John Caligari say on the parade ground as to the drug being voluntary? I answered: ‘John Caligari said, “The drug trial is voluntary, but if you do not consent to the trial you will not deploy to East Timor.”‘ As I said, I am 100 per cent correct that I heard this. I would not lie about this. I know the man’s reputation is at stake; I would not lie.

I received the findings for my part in this inquiry a while later. The report suggests that I basically lied to the inquiry—and so did four or five others that were with us—finding that John Caligari had never said those words. I was gobsmacked. He was an officer I respected, trusted and looked up to, as I had worked for him again in later years. He categorically denied it. There are hundreds of people from that 1 RAR parade ground who will agree with me. We are not liars. What would I have to gain by saying this? Nothing. Also, if you look at submission No.80, I don’t know if you have that with you, what he’s said in there—I saw that the other day in the submissions—is what I’m saying.

Everyone affected by these drugs wants answers. My section in East Timor consisted of nine fit men. Six out of the nine are now experiencing all of these symptoms and are unable to work; that’s a 75 per cent ratio. Why were Defence used as guinea pigs? Why were we forced to take these drugs? What do we have to do to get help—more suicides? There is blood on the hands of the malaria institute, Defence and the leaders of these so-called trials. I personally have been to two funerals as a direct result of these horrendous drugs, and it will keep happening. Just three days ago a former member of 1 RAR who was on these trials committed suicide. That was three days ago. It’s still happening. The fraud and corruption involved in these trials is huge. The lying and deceit is incomprehensible. People and organisations need to be held accountable for the damage they have done to hundreds if not thousands of officers and soldiers.

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting the testimonies of some of the thousands of ADF personnel who were subjected to these drug trials, which have been described as “the most shameful chapter in the recent history of the ADF.” Over the coming weeks we will post more of these first hand testimonies, from the subjects of the unethical drug trials which provided much of the basis for the 2018 regulatory approvals of Arakoda® in the US and Kodatef® in Australia. The evidence we already have is sufficient to prove that the official report from Study 033 and some of the other AMI tafenoquine trials are fraudulent.

Australian Army poisons one of its officers with tafenoquine then continues to use him in their recruiting ad campaign

With the deployments to East Timor and Bougainville, over 3,000 Australian soldiers were subjected to these quinoline drugs, as part of a trial through the military. We’ve assessed through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs own statistics that about 1,000 of the people who were subjected to these drugs have been diagnosed with severe mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Retired Australian Army Captain Andrew George, Sky News Australia, June 6, 2018

ANDREW George was one of the 1,540 Australian Defense Force (ADF) personnel given tafenoquine during the Army Malaria Institute’s notorious quinoline drug trials which involved more than 4,000 troops in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), East Timor and Australia from 1999 to 2002. The ADF has since admitted that it did not subject tafenoquine to appropriate neurotoxicity testing on primates either before or after these clinical trials. In 2009, scientists from the U.S. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, which developed both tafenoquine and mefloquine, conducted laboratory studies which found “tafenoquine is the only antimalarial more neurotoxic than mefloquine.”

Like many of the other tafenoquine trial subjects, Andrew was subsequently discharged from the ADF and continues to experience severe, chronic ill-health consistent with quinoline poisoning, against a wall of denials from senior ADF officials including the Surgeon-General, Air Vice Marshal Tracy Smart. Through all this, the ADF continued to feature Andrew in their Army Reserve – Challenge Yourself recruiting campaign on billboards, brochures and television.

Tafenoquine was granted regulatory approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration in 2018. The FDA approval entitled GlaxoSmithKline to a “priority review voucher” which can be sold on the open market for hundreds of millions of dollars, even if a single tablet of the drug is never sold.

“Andrew George, a former infantry soldier and public relations officer with the Army Reserve, was treated with tafenoquine in Sydney and claims it left him with damaging side effects.

“Mr George, who features in promotional material for the reserves, said he was given the drug after being diagnosed with malaria but does not recall giving informed consent after a detailed explanation of the drug.

“He is one of many veterans seeking answers about the drugs with many believing it complicated their diagnosis and management of post-traumatic stress-disorder.”

Source: Henry Belot, “Therapeutic Goods Administration warned military doctors before using experimental drug on soldierssoldies,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 29, 2016

Senior Australian Army doctor accused of culpability over the deaths of tafenoquine and mefloquine drug trial subjects

Australian Army Major Stuart McCarthy in 2015

Vice Admiral Griggs cannot wash his hands of this, try as he might. The ADF caused it, to our eternal shame. The AMI and the authors of those drug trial reports—among them the ADF’s director of military medicine, Colonel Leonard Brennan—bear direct responsibility for those deaths and the legacy of widespread chronic illness among coalition troops. 

Major Stuart McCarthy, testimony to Australian Senate inquiry, 2015

IN Bougainville and Timor, army medical officers also prescribed a drug known as tafenoquine to 1512 troops, even though it had not — and still has not — been approved for use by Australian authorities.

A series of allegations have now been made about the ethics of these trials and the impact they may have had on the mental health of the participants.

One serving army officer who took mefloquine, Major Stuart McCarthy, alleges the trials were “manifestly unethical” because officers compelled soldiers to take the drug without properly warning of the risks.

He’s supported by a US expert who believes the ADF trials were “deeply unethical”.

McCarthy alleges one commanding officer of troops headed for Timor told his men they would not be deployed unless they took part in the trial, which McCarthy says amounts to compulsion.

In evidence to a Senate committee last week, McCarthy named the ADF’s director of military medicine, Colonel Leonard Brennan, as having “direct responsibility” for the chronic illness and death of Australian and allied troops. Brennan is mentioned in academic journals as having been part of the “study team” that tested tafenoquine and he has co-authored articles about the testing of both drugs on soldiers.

Source: Paul Cleary, “Drug trial a test of ethics,” The Australian, September 11, 2015

How U.S. Army officials got played by GlaxoSmithKline into subjecting 1,540 Australian peacekeeping troops to tafenoquine drug trials for commercial purposes

Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring MD

CONTRADICTING recent claims by Australian Defense Force (ADF) Surgeon General Air Vice Marshal Tracy Smart that a malaria outbreak during the early stages of the East Timor deployment in 1999-2000 necessitated the use of the experimental drug tafenoquine, a former WRAIR director has stated that the U.S. military was looking for large numbers of allied troops able to participate in clinical trials as part of its commercial arrangements with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

We essentially said: ‘We have developed [tafenoquine] to the point at which we cannot develop it any further. We need an industrial partner. You [GSK] develop it and make it available to us.’

We were completely naive, because we were desperate.

We were very mission driven, very altruistic, really babes in the woods when it came to business and such, and it showed, right? We routinely got taken advantage of, and didn’t understand the operating environment.”


A 1998 Australian Army Malaria Institute (AMI) clinical trial in Bougainville had previously found another GSK drug, Malarone (from another drug class), to be as effective against malaria (less P. vivax eradication) and better tolerated than the existing ADF first line drug doxycycline. AMI recommended against the adoption of Malarone due to cost, less than the cost of a cup of coffee per day. Regardless, Malarone replaced mefloquine as the ADF’s second line antimalarial in 2006, when the latter drug was relegated to “drug of last resort” due to the risk of neuropsychiatric side effects. Malarone is now regarded as so safe that it is sold over the counter (without prescription) in many countries.

AVM Smart’s claim that the P. Vivax malaria outbreak most likely resulted from “drug resistance”, or “poor compliance” with the standard primaquine post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) regimen, has also been largely debunked in some of the world’s leading medical-scientific journals. Throughout the history of the use of primaquine, a significant proportion of individuals have contracted P. vivax malaria despite compliance with the recommended dose regimen. Drug failures have typically been mis-attributed to “poor compliance” or assumed “drug resistance” in the malaria parasite. However there has never been any direct scientific evidence of P. vivax resistance to primaquine. This has only ever been an assumption.

In recent years, leading malaria research scientists have discovered that the 8-aminoquinolines (including primaquine and tafenoquine) are largely ineffective because they need to be metabolised by an enzyme known as CYP2D6. Up to one quarter of the population carry a genetic deficiency which means they remain at risk of contracting malaria even if they are fully compliant with the prescribed drug regimen. In allowing the U.S. military to subject 1,540 of their soldiers to these drug trials, senior ADF officials switched from a largely ineffective but relatively safe and registered drug, to very high doses of an equally ineffective but unregistered drug which is also known to be neurotoxic.

Some time around 2010, coinciding with the publication of AMI Study 033 (the 1 RAR tafenoquine prophylaxis trial in East Timor), GSK discontinued it’s involvement in developing tafenoquine for malaria prophylaxis, ostensibly due to safety concerns for G6PD-deficient individuals. The GSK drug indicated for the treatment of P. vivax malaria, based on a single 300 mg dose sometimes called “radical cure” is known as Krintafel® in the U.S. or Kozenis® in Australia. Regulatory approval of Krintafel® by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2018 entitled GSK to the award of a “priority review voucher”, a saleable product valued at up to USD$350 million, even if a single tablet of this drug is never sold.

Further background is available here and here.