The effects of thalidomide are notorious. Pregnant women took the drug in the 1950s and ’60s to treat morning sickness, unaware that it drastically altered the development of their fetuses. Their children were born with missing or deformed limbs or ears, or with malformed internal organs. Many of them died.
When thalidomide was pulled from the market, its name was dirt. No one expected to see it ever again, but it’s back.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved thalidomide (now going by the name Thalomid) for two purposes: to treat blood and bone marrow cancer, and to treat skin lesions caused by leprosy. Research into other uses is ongoing. To get your hands on it you have to go through a process called S.T.E.P.S. to prevent thalidomide pregnancies.
Even though it is an old drug, taking thalidomide will cost you — $4,000 per month, according to one report from Canada, but since then Thalomid’s manufacturer agreed to lower the price in Canada. (That change came after a long tussle with the government.) In 2005, The New York Times put the cost of one year of Thalomid treatment in the U.S. at $25,000. According to a biotechnology analyst, drug makers in cases like Thalomid charge what the market will bear, regardless of what it cost them to manufacture the drug.
Who would have thought 50 years ago that rather than avoiding thalidomide like the plague, people would be forking over their life’s savings to get it? How the times do change.
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