Thalidomide, Drug That Caused Chaos Decades Ago, May Help With Deadly Lung Disease

Thalidomide has had a long and patchy history after its introduction and subsequent wide-scale use before it was pulled from the market in 1961, but the medicine may prove of benefit for sufferers of a lung disease that kills 40,000 people each year in the US.

Thalidomide was used a half-century ago to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. But, as use of the drug became more prevalent, so too did the occurrence of horrifying birth defects in babies born to women treated with thalidomide.

Ultimately, thalidomide was pulled from the market in 1961, but the drug’s effects shaped much of the way drugs and pregnancy is treated in modern medicine, ushering in an era of extreme caution due to a long memory of thalidomide’s frightening effects on fetal development.

Although thalidomide has become a name associated with a massive medical mishap, the drug has also proven to show promise for certain conditions in recent years, at least in women who are not pregnant and are not planning to become pregnant.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is as deadly as breast cancer in America, and few treatments exist to better the quality of life for sufferers.

A recent study on the use of thalidomide for IPF sufferers out of Johns Hopkins underscores this issue, and lead study author Dr. Maureen Horton, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explains:

“What is exciting about the trial for me is that, the data are so dramatic and this is the first [drug] trial in IPF to show any successful outcome … Given the [lack] of treatments we have for any aspect of this disease, it’s good to have anything that can make their lives better.”

The small study on thalidomide and IPF was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.