Thalidomide: Is it the next-gen cancer drug?

History of the wonder drug “Thalidomide”

In 1957, thalidomide was first marketed under the trade name Contergan in Germany. It is one of the most widely used immunotherapeutic agents to treat immune responses that involve suppression or induction of the immune system. It was prescribed as a sedative in cases of hypertension, sleeplessness or insomnia, and anxiety attacks.

Thalidomide was subsequently administered to pregnant women to reduce the symptoms of morning sickness and nausea. However, the drug was found to cause deformities in the neonates. The deformity, called phocomelia, mainly affected the limbs. It was concluded that thalidomide causes two major health complications: Embryo-Fetal Toxicity and Venous Thromboembolism. Besides, risks increase significantly when the drug is used in combination with other potent chemotherapeutics, such as dexamethasone.

Potential of thalidomide

Despite its dark past, thalidomide has many beneficial attributes that are continuously being explored by researchers and scientists. In fact, thalidomide is now being considered as an effective drug for treating cancer, especially blood cancer known as myeloma.

The drug is found to inhibit the COX-2 gene activity that plays a vital role in the upregulation of cancer. Another wider class protein called NF-κB is an active regulator of anti-apoptotic factors.  This protein is also inhibited by thalidomide. Thalidomide elevates the levels of immune cells, such as T-cells and natural killer cells.

Although researches on thalidomide as a potential cancer therapy drug are yet to reach a conclusion, they have shown the efficacy of the drug in shrinking and attenuating malignant tumors.

There are other drugs available in the market with similar cancer treating properties as thalidomide, but they are not cost-effective and have many side effects. Conversely, thalidomide is cheaper and off-patent, which makes it more conducive for exploring its potency in cancer treatment.