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Published on 13 January 2009

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Thalidomide cleared for rare cancer


The birth defect drug thalidomide has been cleared by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) to be prescribed for a rare form of cancer.

Fifty years ago the drug, then prescribed for morning sickness in pregnant women, was linked to thousands of cases of birth defects worldwide.

It was withdrawn in the UK in 1961. But last year the European Medicines Agency recommended it for the treatment of a rare bone marrow cancer.

The SMC decision will allow doctors in Scotland to prescribe the drug without first having to argue a case for it on clinical grounds to their health boards.

Up to now, it could only be used for “off-label” prescribing, after doctors had convinced their health board that it was suitable in exceptional cases.

The SMC said the drug was now accepted for use, in combination with other drugs, as a first-line treatment for certain patients with untreated multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of a type of white blood cell.

It said: “In the pivotal trial in patients aged 65 to 75 years, the addition of thalidomide to (the other drugs) melphalan and prednisone gave an overall survival advantage of 18.4 months.”

Copyright Press Association 2009

Scottish Medicines Consortium

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