How Does Thalidomide Treat Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma and treatment with thalidomide

(RxWiki News) A fun fact about drug development is that despite the best effort of everyone involved, it's hard to predict what the drug is going to do. Rogaine and Viagra were both originally developed as blood pressure medications. And then there's thalidomide.

Originally infamous for causing birth defects, Thalomid (thalidomide) was given to pregnant women in the 1960's to ease the nausea of early pregnancy.

Serious, lethal birth defects in those patients led to a long-standing ban on drugs in the thalidomide family.

Years later, it was again given to cancer patients to treat nausea. Doctors noticed that in some patients, it helped fight the cancer, so it became a key part of leukemia therapy. But nobody knew how it worked. 

"Ask your oncologist about Thalomid for multiple myeloma."

In a study presented to the American Society of Hematology, Keith Stewart M.D., MBA found a link between resistance to the cancer drugs in the thalidomide family, and the level of a cellular protein called cereblon, which helps cells develop normally. 

Dr. Stewart's research shows that when drugs in the Thalomid family, including Revlimid (lenalidomide) and pomalidomide (Actimid), are given to cancer patients, the drug will usually not work if the patient has a high level of cereblon.

Furthermore, Dr. Stewart found that lowering the level of cereblon in the cell allowed Thalomid to have an effect in fighting the cancer. 

Further research in this area could give new targets for multiple myeloma treatment. Or, as Dr. Stewart states, "These findings help us understand which patients may be more or less likely to respond to [Thalomid] therapy."

Research was funded by the Mayo Clinic, a non-profit institution. No conflicts of interest were disclosed by any party.

Review Date: 
January 21, 2012