RSS
The return of thalidomide
The 'most reviled drug of the 20th century' is making a comeback, says Amanda Schaffer in Slate. And it might just help you live longer
Thalidomide victims rallied against the German drugmaker Grunenthal in 2008, half a century after the company launched the notorious morning sickness pill.
Thalidomide victims rallied against the German drugmaker Grunenthal in 2008, half a century after the company launched the notorious morning sickness pill.
Corbis
T

halidomide, the notorious sedative that caused a wave of birth defects in the 1950s and 1960s, is "on its way to a second act," says Amanda Schaffer in Slate. The drug caused a scandal after women who had taken it as a cure for morning sickness gave birth to phocomelic children — with undeveloped or missing limbs and features. But 50 years later, the drug is steadily gaining respectability after being approved by the FDA for the treatment of leprosy and bone marrow cancer, and, astonishingly, showing promise as an "immune booster for the elderly." If this keeps up, the "most reviled drug of the 20th century" might end up being a significant lifesaver in the 21st, writes Schaffer. Here's an excerpt:

Today, scientists are investigating [thalidomide] and a close chemical cousin, to treat conditions from lupus to psoriasis and even as an immune booster for the elderly. This possibility is especially stunning because it means contemplating widespread usage of this class of drugs in basically healthy people and in a group old enough to recall the thalidomide tragedy firsthand...

For scientists to think of these compounds for broad usage, especially in people who aren't very sick, represents a profound comeback ... Considering how tough it is to get new drugs approved, though, the lesson of thalidomide is that it makes sense to look back at old ones and their chemical relatives. Even a former villain, put to a new task, can have a second life.

Read the entire article in Slate.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week