50 Years Of Thalidomide
BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 3, 2007 – Thalidomide was introduced as a sedative in Europe and Canada in the late 1950s, and was widely used to treat insomnia and nausea during pregnancy. About 10,000 children worldwide whose mothers had unwittingly taken a drug marketed for morning sickness suffered dramatic disabling birth defects. These severe effects of its use led to the withdrawal of thalidomide in 1961.
Many years later it was discovered that thalidomide is a drug with anticancer activity. It appears to have multiple actions, including the ability to inhibit the growth and survival of cancer cells in various ways, to affect the immune system as a so called immunomodulatory agent, and to inhibit the growth of new blood vessels that nurture tumors (angiogenesis). It has been investigated in a number of cancers, including multiple myeloma, myelodisplatic syndromes, gliomas, Karposi’s sarcoma, renal cell carcinoma, advanced breast cancer, and colon cancer. The exact mechanism by which thalidomide is effective is not yet fully known, but thalidomide has been remarkably active in multiple myeloma, both as a single agent and in combination with other drugs.
Thalidomide was introduced for treatment of patients with myeloma in 1999, being the first new innovative therapy for almost 40 years. There is no question the drug has been effective and added countless years to lives of myeloma patients everywhere. So a drug with a very bad reputation has turned out to have a good side as well. After its reintroduction it has been distributed only under strict safety requirements, and as a result there have been NO cases of defective births related thalidomide ever since.
Alongside with its effectiveness in battling myeloma, thalidomide has serious side effects such as neuropathy (numbness in hands, feet, and lower legs), constipation, thrombosis, rash, and fatigue. Therefore, more advanced analogs with fewer side effects are being developed. But this takes time, and thalidomide will remain an important therapy option for myeloma patients for quite some time. The European Myeloma Platform (EMP) has been active in the past, to make thalidomide legally available to all myeloma patients in Europe, and will continue to advocate for access to this drug while emphasizing the importance of appropriate and acceptable safety precautions. The bad history of thalidomide should not be minimized, but it should not be a reason either to halt its use, if overwhelming scientific evidence now demonstrates that the drug can be used safely and effectively for treating multiple myeloma and other cancers.
- Contact Information
- Rolf Pelzing
- European Myeloma Platform
- Contact via E-mail
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