Treatment Review #15; December 1994
Thalidomide, a drug that was once prescribed as a sleeping
pill, was banned in the early 1960s after it was found to
cause deformed limbs in the children of women who took it
early in pregnancy. Researchers have found that it may be a
useful drug in treating symptoms of HIV infection, including
wasting. Thalidomide is believed to work by interfering with
the production of tumor necrosis factor, or TNF. It may also
have other effects.
TNF is a chemical produced by the immune system to fight
tumors and infections. TNF levels are often high in people
with AIDS. High TNF levels are associated with more rapid
progression to AIDS and with the development of HIV related
central nervous system disease. High levels of TNF are
thought to contribute to HIV wasting syndrome.
Celgene Corp. has started Phase II testing of its Synovir
brand of thalidomide to treat weight loss in AIDS patients.
The drug is used by some people with AIDS in the US, Canada
and Brazil. Good results have been reported by individuals
participating in the trial organized by Rockefeller
University in New York City, particularly in controlling
wasting and increasing weight and muscle. For information
about thalidomide trials, call The Network. It may also be
possible to get the drug if your doctor agrees to ask the
drug company for it.