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Sunday, 2 February, 2003, 00:14 GMT
Thalidomide 'can help fight cancer'
Thalidomide was banned in the 1960s
Doctors have found more evidence that the controversial drug thalidomide could help fight cancer.

Researchers in London have discovered that drugs based on thalidomide can destroy cancer cells by forcing them to commit suicide.

They believe the discovery could lead to the development of a new generation of powerful drugs to fight the disease.

We were surprised at the ability of this class of drug to kill cancer cells but leave normal cells apparently unaffected

Dr Blake Marriott
The finding comes just days after another group of British doctors announced plans to carry out a major clinical trial to see if thalidomide can help patients with small cell lung cancer.

Growing evidence

There is now growing evidence that thalidomide, which was banned in the 1960s, could be an effective weapon against cancer.

European regulators will shortly decide whether it should be licensed again.

They are looking at studies which suggest it can help patients with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, which affects about 20,000 patients in Europe each year.

The drug was marketed in the 1950s and 1960s as a cure for morning sickness. It was banned after mothers who took it gave birth to deformed children.

This latest study looked at a key compound of thalidomide called SeICIDs or selective cytokine inhibitory drugs.

'Healthy cells unaffected'

Professor Angus Dalgleish and colleagues at St George's Hospital Medical School found that this compound can attack tumour cells directly and cause them to commit suicide.

Dr Blake Marriott, one of the lead researchers, said healthy cells were unaffected.

"We were surprised at the ability of this class of drug to kill cancer cells but leave normal cells apparently unaffected."

He added: "It is important to emphasise that this novel compound and SeICIDs in general are totally different to thalidomide.

"Also, the most likely benefits will be when tailor-made combinations of these drugs are used, perhaps in combination with other chemotherapeutic drugs."

The researchers believe that clinical trials using this compound could be underway within two years. But they said further studies are needed.

This study, which was financed by the biopharmaceutical company Celgene Corporation, is published in the journal Cancer Research.

See also:

28 Jan 03 | Health
30 Oct 02 | Health
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