Is the notorious drug Thalidomide making a comeback?

Illustration for article titled Is the notorious drug Thalidomide making a comeback?

Thalidomide has just about the worst reputation of any drug on the planet. After all, its widespread use led to birth defects in tens of thousands of children in the 1950s and 1960s. And yet, you may be surprised to know it's still being used to treat certain diseases. And now, a new study suggests it could have a huge, massively beneficial use. Are we finally ready to get past the Thalidomide stigma?

Thalidomide is currently being used for treating multiple myeloma and for some of the symptoms of leprosy — but the new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has shown that it can be used to treat the cough associated with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. IPF is progressive and fatal — and usually associated with an utterly debilitating cough that accompanies the stiffening and scarring of the lungs.

This double-blind study put patients on the powerful anti-inflammatory drug. And 63% of those who took it saw a substantial reduction in coughing, and 20% noticed an improvement in quality of life. Unsurprisingly, there were side effects: constipation, dizziness and malaise were among those reported by 74% of patients.


Even with those downsides, this marks a substantial breakthrough. There's no agreed upon treatment for IPF, and especially not for treating the cough that's associated with it. So long as thalidomide is treated with the same cautions as any other drug that can cause birth defects (see: accutane), it could actually serve to help the lives of people with an otherwise untreatable disease — which should go a long way to making it a much less scary drug.

Top image: Voice of America.

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Dr Emilio Lizardo

It has already made it's comeback. It's not new for myeloma, it has been i use for over ten years. It was loads of fun when it was first brought back, when we were required to ask 80 year old women (and men) what precautions they were taking to prevent pregnancy. That has gotten a little better but a physician still needs to be registered in specific programs to prescribe it.