1 Lockwood, D; Bryceson, A (2003) The return of thalidomide: new uses and renewed concerns reply. Leprosy review, 74 (3). pp ISSN Downloaded from: DOI: Usage Guidelines Please refer to usage guidelines at or alternatively contact Available under license: Copyright the publishers
2 Lepr Rev 2003) 74, 286±293 Commentaries The following article, on the use of thalidomide in the treatment of leprosy, appeared in the WHO Pharmaceuticals Newsletter, No. 2, 2003, and can be found on the WHO website lep/tag/thal.doc). The article is followed by three commentaries on Dr Pannikar's article, from Dr G. F. M. Pereira, of the Ministry of Health in Brazil, from Dr Diana Lockwood and Dr Anthony Bryceson, of LSHTM, London, UK, and from Ben Naafs, of Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands, Regional Dermatology Training Centre, Moshi, Tanzania and Instituto Lauro de Souza Lima ILSL) Bauru SP, Brazil. The return of thalidomide: new uses and renewed concerns Dr V. Pannikar, Medical Of cer, Communicable Diseases Leprosy Group), WHO History Thalidomide or a- N-phthalimido) glutarimide was marketed in 1957 for morning sickness and nausea and soon became the `drug of choice to help pregnant women'. It went into general use by the following year and was widely prescribed in Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa and the Americas. 1 Allegedly, the drug was harmless and a lethal dose could not even be established. 2 However, in the early 1960s, in what might be described as the worst case of pharmaceutical oversight, the drug was found to be associated with a congenital abnormality causing severe birth defects in children born of women who had been prescribed this drug during pregnancy. More than 10,000 cases of birth defects were reported in over 46 nations following thalidomide exposure. Children were born with missing amelia) or abnormal phocomelia) legs, arms, feet and hands; spinal cord defects; cleft lip or palate; absent or abnormal external ears; heart, kidney, and genital abnormalities; and abnormal formation of the digestive system. It is estimated that 40% of thalidomide victims died within a year of birth. 3 Today there are approximately 5000 thalidomide survivors. 1 The `thalidomide syndrome' triggered a world wide response. Safety monitoring systems were set up to prevent this tragedy ever happening again and the drug was taken off the market in many countries in Thalidomide in leprosy A few years later, however, the drug thalidomide was reintroduced as treatment for a complication of leprosy called erythema nodosum leprosum ENL). Although the evidence was not fully established, very soon the drug was heralded as the drug of choice for the management of ENL reactions in leprosy and regulatory authorities granted exemption from licensing requirements to enable doctors to obtain limited supplies of thalidomide under strictly controlled circumstances for use in named patients. Thalidomide's effectiveness in minimizing symptoms of ENL was mainly due to its antipyretic action. Its effectiveness in controlling neuritis, the major cause of permanent disabilities in leprosy, was limited. Several controlled studies done in the 70's have demonstrated that prednisolone is more effective in /03/ $1.00 q Lepra
3 Commentaries 287 controlling ENL and associated neuritis. 4±6 In addition, it was demonstrated that clofazimine, an antileprosy drug introduced on a small scale in the early 60's had anti-in ammatory action. 7,8 Studies showed that clofazimine is the drug of choice for the management of chronic, recurrent ENL reactions, as it had both anti-reaction and anti-leprosy effect. Moreover, while almost all patients given thalidomide relapsed after discontinuation of the drug, none of the patients treated with clofazimine for ENL reactions relapsed. 9±11 The drug clofazimine is now a component of the multidrug therapy MDT), introduced by WHO in 1981 as the standard treatment for leprosy. The presence of clofazimine in the combination has signi cantly reduced the frequency and severity of ENL reactions worldwide. 12,13 Today, ENL reaction is a rare complication, limited to a small proportion of multibacillary patients. Most of the ENL reactions are mild in nature and do not require any speci c treatment except with some analgesics/antipyretics. In those suffering ENL associated neuritis, the drug of choice is prednisolone. For chronic recurrent reactions the drug of choice is clofazimine. Thalidomide in other indications The above points clearly demonstrate that there is no place for thalidomide in leprosy. But very often this disease is used as an entry point to reintroduce thalidomide for a multitude of other indications. Millions of treatments are being prescribed annually and almost all of it is for non-leprosy conditions including cancer treatment and use in HIV. There are limited trials demonstrating the ef cacy of thalidomide in other conditions. 14,15 Each condition must be evaluated in its own right and there must be put in place stringent restrictions on its availability. In addition there must be a monitoring system in place. There is no justi cation in extrapolating data from monitoring systems for leprosy to other conditions. The medical community that support the use of thalidomide for other conditions should make their own case for the drug. They cannot base it on the leprosy studies which are anything but exhaustive. In conclusion Today, a large number of thalidomide babies continue to be born each year 16±18 possibly re ecting regulatory insuf ciency and widespread use under inadequate supervision. In Brazil, which has more than 1000 registered thalidomide victims, the last of cially known case was born in ,20 There is evidence that second generation babies with similar deformities are being born to thalidomide victims. 21,22 In the US, Celgene Corporation has had FDA approval to market the drug since 1998 for the cutaneous manifestations of moderate to severe erythema nodosum leprosum. In Europe, the US company Pharmion Corp and French rival Laphal have both secured orphan drug status for thalidomide and have applied to market the drug as a therapy for multiple myeloma and for ENL in the EU. The EU is currently holding discussions on the re-launch of thalidomide. Whatever the outcome of the EU discussions, it cannot be over-emphasized that any potential bene t with thalidomide must be balanced with the known toxicity and the accompanying ethical and legal constraints on its use. Experience has shown that it is virtually impossible to develop and implement a fool-proof surveillance mechanism to combat misuse of thalidomide. References 1 What is thalidomide? TVAC: Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, September 01, Available: 2 James JS. ATN) Thalidomide and HIV: Background. AIDS Treatment News Issue #179, July 23, Available: 3 Lenz W. The History of Thalidomide. TVAC: Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, September 01, Available:
4 288 Commentaries 4 Dharmendra. Leprosy volume 1, 1978, Kothari Medical Publishing House, Bombay, India. 5 WHO. The nal push strategy to eliminate leprosy a public health problem, questions & answers, second edition, 2003, WHO, Geneva. 6 Ramu G and Iyer CG. Treatment of reactions in leprosy. In: A window on leprosy, Edited by Chatterjee BR, published by Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation. 7 Browne SG. B 663Ðpossible anti-in ammatory action in lepromatous leprosy. Leprosy Review, 1965, 36: 9. 8 Waters MFR. Transactions of the Ninth International Leprosy Congress. International Journal of Leprosy, 1968, 36: Iyer CG et al. WHO coordinated short term double blind trial with thalidomide on the treatment of acute lepra reactions in male lepromatous cases. Bull World Health Org, 1971, 45: Iyer CG, Ramu G. An open trial with clofazimine in the management of recurrent lepra reaction using thalidomide as a control drug. Leprosy in India, 1976, 48: Ramanujam K, Iyer CG, Ramu G. Open trial with clofazimine in the management of recurrent lepra reaction and of sulphone sensitive cases: a preliminary report. Leprosy Review, 1975, 46 supplement): Becx-Bluemink M, Berhe D. Occurrence of reactions, their diagnosis and management in leprosy patients treated with multidrug therapy; experience in the Leprosy Control Programme of All Africa Leprosy and Rehabilitation Training Centre ALERT) in Ethiopia. International Journal of Leprosy and Other Mycobacterial Diseases, 1992, 60: Willcox ML. The impact of multidrug therapy on leprosy disabilities. Leprosy Review, 1997, 68: Wines NY, Cooper AJ, Wines MP. Thalidomide in dermatology. Australian Journal of Dermatology, 2002, 43: Gaspari A. Thalidomide neurotoxicity in dermatological patients: The next 'STEP'. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2002, 119: FDA tries to plug risky drug loopholes. The Associated Press, ABCNEWS.com, December 9, Available: 17 Kranish, M. New use is found for thalidomide: ghting cancer. Boston Globe Online, October 20, years after the thalidomide holocaust. Available: 19 Castilla EE et al. Thalidomide, a current teratogen in South America. Teratology, 1996, 54: Communication from CEATOXÐCentro de AssisteÃncia ToxicoloÂgica, Instituto da CriancËa Professor Pedro de Alcantara, Hospital das Clinicas da Faculdade de Medicina da U.S.P, Brazil. 21 `Second generation' Thalidomide claims. BBC News, Health, October 2, A curse on my baby. Sunday Times Focus, July 20, On thalidomide and WHO policies Dr G. F. M. Pereira, Ministry of Health, Brazil The Brazilian scienti c community felt perplexed on reading the publication `The Return of Thalidomide: New Uses and Renewed Concerns', by Dr V. Pannikar, Medical Of cer, Communicable Diseases Leprosy Group), WHO. WHO is an intergovernmental organization and thus, in principle, its policies should be authenticated by the Member Countries as well as by the international scienti c community. A review of its of cial publications shows that the debate on thalidomide TH) was not included in any technical report of its expert committees in recent decades. This was quite natural, since Brazil was the only country manufacturing TH. Denying the truth is avoiding its responsibilities. In the last decade, the use of TH as a potent modulator of the immune response has been recuperated. To say that its action on erythema nodosum leprosum ENL) is only due to its antipyretic action is to ignore dozens of papers describing the action of TH on TNF-a, an important pro-in ammatory cytokine. It is also to ignore the possibility, already published in the literature, of obtaining TH analogues. If obtaining such analogues is not possible, the use of TH should be surrounded by all possible safeguards and carried out, since it is undoubtedly a promising drug in frank redemption. WHO should be reminded that there is no innocuous drug; every one, without exception, has side effects. It should also note that the second-line options for treating patients with ENL are steroids and clofazimine, but the many severe and unaesthetic side effects of both drugs were not mentioned by Dr Pannikar. Has WHO forgotten how dif cult it is to ght a stigma, like the stigma of leprosy or the stigma of AIDS? Is WHO now planting the seeds of another stigma?
5 Commentaries 289 What is WHO's experience with TH alone, and with TH in ENL? The literature shows a single mention that WHO sponsored a comparative study between TH and AAS in the 1960s, with results favourable to TH. Why was this recent publication issued without the customary consultation to the scienti c community and to governments with experience on the issue? Speci cally concerning Brazil, the scienti c data presented therein are wrong. `In Brazil, which has more than 1000 thalidomide victims... )'. Where did this information come from? There have been only 56 reported TH accidents in Brazil in the last 4 decades. The literature also shows that after 1965, only Brazil continued to manufacture TH in a commercial scale, for the purpose of supplying the Brazilian Leprosy Control Program. Perhaps it was also produced in other countries and used in research, although its manufacture was forbidden in these countries? Since 1965, 637,848 new leprosy cases have been registered in Brazil for treatment, of which 303,230 were MB cases. Approximately 30% of them 90,969) had type 2 reactions ENL) and received thalidomide. This is the largest Brazilian experience with the drug, which has also been used in much smaller volume for other conditions. In the last 5 years 1998±2002), the Brazilian Ministry of Health purchased 18 million capsules of thalidomide and 54 million tablets of steroids prednisone 5 and 20 mg) for the treatment of reversal lepra reaction. Alarge study sponsored by the Brazilian Society of Dermatology in cooperation with the National Agency for Sanitary Surveillance ANVISA/MoH) carried out in 2001 resulted in broadening the therapeutic use of thalidomide for other diseases beyond ENL, under strict surveillance, and allowing its use in women of childbearing age, under supervision of the Brazilian Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics FEBRASGO). The conclusion of the WHO document that `Experience has shown that is virtually impossible to develop and implement a fool-proof surveillance mechanism to combat misuse of thalidomide' proves another lack of knowledge on the enormous development in the eld of pharmacological surveillance in France, the USAand Brazil, not only on TH but on many other drugs, teratogenic or not. Indeed, without pharmacological surveillance there would be no restricted black-label drugs. Finally, we believe that WHO technical policies should be support by The Leprosy Expert Committee on Leprosy, so that, based on concrete evidence and supported by the scienti c community, its positions continue to maintain the historical credibility of its recommendations, which currently) lack, at least in the case of leprosy, soundness under the scienti c knowledge. Further reading Guerra JG, Penna GO, Castro LCM et al. Eritema Nodoso HanseÃnico: atualizacëaäo clõânica e terapeãutica. An Bras Dermatol, Rio de Janeiro, 2002; 77: 389±410. Iyer CGS, Languillon J, Ramanujam K et al. WHO co-ordinated short-term double-blind trial with thalidomide in the treatment of acute lepra reactions in male lepromatous patients. Bull WHO, 1971; 45: 719±732. Levy L, Fasal P, Levan NE, Freedman RI. Treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum with thalidomide. Lancet 1973; 7824: 324±325. Martelli CMT, Stefani MMA, Penna GO, Andrade AL. Endemias e epidemias brasileiras, desa os e perspectivas de investigacëaäo cientõâ ca: hansenõâase. Rev Bras Epidemiol, accepted for publication). MinisteÂrio da SauÂde, Guia para UtilizacËaÄo de Medicamentos e ImunobioloÂgicos na aârea da HansenõÂase. BrasõÂlia: MS; MinisteÂrio da SauÂde a). Portaria 814 de 26 de julho de DOU MinisteÂrio da SauÂde. Portaria në InstrucËoÄes normativas). DOU /09/2000. MinisteÂrio da SauÂde b). FundacËaÄo Nacional de SauÂde. Guia de VigilaÃncia EpidemioloÂgica. Vol. I e II. BrasõÂlia, MinisteÂrio da SauÂde c). Guia para o controle da hansenõâaseðcadernos da AtencËaÄo BaÂsica në 10. BrasõÂlia, Moraes MO, Sarno EN, Almeida AS et al. Cytokine mrnaexpression in leprosy: a possible role for interferongamma and interleukin-12 in reactions RR and ENL). Scand J Immunol, 1999; 50: 541±549. Moraes MO, Duppre NC, Suffys PN et al. Tumor necrosis factor-a promoter polimorphism TNF2) is associated with a stronger delayed-type hypersensivity reaction in the skin of borderline tuberculoid leprosy patients. Immunogenetics, 2001; 53: 45±47.
6 290 Commentaries Moreira AL, Sampaio EP, Zmuidzina A et al. Thalidomide exerts its inhibitory action on tumor necrosis factor alpha by enhancing mrna degradation. J Exp Med, 1993; 177: 1675±1680. Naafs B, Faber WR. Thalidomide therapy: an open trial. Int J Dermatol, 1985; 24: 131±134. Oliveira MA, Bermurdez JAZ, Souza ACM. Talidomida no Brasil: vigilaãncia com responsabilidade compartilhada. Cad. SauÂde PuÂblica, Rio de Janeiro, 1999; 15: 99±112. Penna GO, Pinheiro AMC, Hajjar LA. TAL: mecanismo de acëaäo, efeitos colaterais e uso terapeãutico. An Bras Dermatol, 1998; 73: 501±517. Penna GO, Ramos AMC, ProencËa N. ContribuicËaÄo da SBD aá revisaäo da Portaria 354ÐAgosto An Bras Dermatol, 2001; 76: 632±633. Sampaio SAP, ProencËa NG. Tratamento da reacëaäo leproâtica pela talidomida. Rev Paul Med, 1966; 68: 301. Sampaio EP, Sarno EN. Expression and cytokine secretion in the states of immune reaction in leprosy. Brazil J Med Biol Res, 1998; 31: 69±76. Sampaio EP, Sarno EN, Gallily R et al. Thalidomide selectively inhibits tumor necrosis factor-a production by stimulated human monocytes. J Exp Med, 1991; 173: 699±703. Sampaio EP, Moreira AL, Sarno EN et al. Prolonged treatment with recombinant interferon-gamma induces erythema nodosum leprosum in lepromatous leprosy patients. J Exp Med, 1992; 175: 1729±1737. Sampaio EP, Kaplan G, Miranda A et al. The in uence of thalidomide on the clinical and immunologic manifestation of erythema nodosum leprosum. J Infect Dis, 1993; 168: 408±414. Sampaio EP, Hernandes MO, Carvalho DS, Sarno EN. Management of erythema nodosum leprosum by Thalidomide: Thalidomide analogues inhibit M. leprae-induced TNFa production in vitro. Biomed Pharmacother, 2002; 56: 13±19. Sampaio EP, Pessolani MCF, Moraes MO, Sarno EN. Current states in reactions and nerve damage in leprosy: what is next? unpublished data, Nov 2002). Santos AR, Almeida AS, Suffys PN et al. Tumor necrosis factor promoter polymorphism TNF2) seems to protect against development of severe forms of leprosy in a pilot study in Brazilian patients. Int J Lepr, 2000; 68: 325±327. Sarno EN, Sampaio EP. Role of in ammatory cytokines in tissue injury in leprosy. Int J Lepr, 1996; 64: S69±S74. Sarno EN, Grau GE, Vieira LM, Nery JA. Serum levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1-beta during leprosy reaction states. Clin Exp Immunol, 1991; 84: 103±108. Sarno EN, Santos AR, Jardim MR et al. Pathogenesis of nerve damage in leprosy: genetic polymorphism regulates the production of TNF-alpha. Lepr Rev, 2000; 71: S154±158; discussion S8±60. Sarno EN, Pessolani MCV. Lancet 2001; 358: S39. Sheskin J. Thalidomide in the treatment of lepra reactions. Clin Pharmacol Ther, 1965; 6: 303±306. Sheskin J, Convit J. Results of a double-blind study of the in uence of Thalidomide on the lepra reaction. Int J Lepr, 1969; 37: 135±146. The return of thalidomide: new uses and renewed concernsðreply Dr Diana Lockwood and Dr Anthony Bryceson, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK Dr Pannikar 1 draws attention to the growing interest in the use of thalidomide for conditions other than type 2 erythema nodosum leprosum, ENL) reactions in leprosy, and rightly points out the dangers attendant upon the uncontrolled distribution of this teratogenic drug. But in doing so, he denies the place of thalidomide in the management of patients with leprosy. His statement `there is no place for thalidomide in leprosy', goes against high quality data from randomized controlled trials and many uncontrolled studies published in peer-reviewed journals and the experience of practising leprologists, and contradicts the recommendations in the seventh report of the WHO Expert Committee on Leprosy. 2 The problem of ENL ENL is still common and serious. It occurs in patients with multibacillary, especially lepromatous LL), disease, whose bacillary index may fall by about one log count each year in response to multidrug therapy MDT), and whose antigen load, capable of triggering hypersensitivity responses, may remain This article was approved for publication by the Acting Editor, Dr A. C. McDougall.
7 Commentaries 291 in tissues even longer. ENL commonly persists or recurs over many years. ENL is a systemic illness with fever, weight loss and pain as well as a cause of damage to nerves, skin, eyes and testes etc. Levy 3 found that ENL `produces greater disability than the underlying lepromatous leprosy, and... was the commonest reason for admission to hospital'. In Brazil, for example, of 162 newly diagnosed multibacillary patients 43 developed ENL during their 24 month course of MDT, 4 accounting for 91% of reactions in lepromatous patients. In North East Thailand, 26% of lepromatous patients developed ENL during treatment, 5 and in Nepal 6% of all leprosy patients developed ENL over a mean 21 months, and over half over them developed new nerve function impairment. 6 Management of ENL demands a drug that can be used safely for many years. In this context, thalidomide, which is rapidly excreted, has limited toxicity and does not accumulate in the body, is more suitable than corticosteroids or clofazimine. The ef cacy of thalidomide This has been clearly demonstrated in four randomized controlled trials Table 1). Three were placebo controlled and patients with ENL showed clear clinical improvement whilst on thalidomide. 7±9 The fourth study, 10 a WHO multicentre study, compared thalidomide against aspirin. This drug was carefully chosen, since it is an antipyretic and thus the study should demonstrate the clinical improvement over and above the antipyretic and analgesic effect of aspirin. In this study, skin lesions improved and resolved more quickly with thalidomide, as did nerve lesions and other organ involvement e.g. eyes, testes, lymph nodes). There are also numerous uncontrolled case series reporting on the ef cacy of thalidomide 11,12,13 Patients maintained on thalidomide do not get further episodes on ENL. 3,14 Thalidomide and nerve damage The available evidence suggests that in ENL reactions, thalidomide controls neuritis, relieves pain and improves nerve function, 10,15,16,17,18 and if maintained prevents further episodes of neuritis. 7 In Iyer's multi-centre controlled study nerve lesions improved more rapidly on thalidomide. 10 Sheskin et al. 7,19 showed from motor conduction studies on six patients that both prednisolone and thalidomide improved nerve function during reaction, thalidomide more than prednisolone whilst the nerve function of patients on placebo or analgesics worsened. A 6-year neurophysiological follow-up of ulnar nerve function con rmed the nding. 20 Steroids versus thalidomide in ENL It is disingenuous of Dr Pannikar to cite two non-peer reviewed book chapters and a WHO strategy document in support of his contention that prednisolone is more effective than thalidomide in controlling ENL. We could nd no controlled studies directly comparing the two agents. A recent non-blinded comparison of pentoxifylline, thalidomide and prednisone in 16 patients with ENL showed that thalidomide gave the fastest and most effective clinical response. 21 Earlier uncontrolled studies stress that thalidomide works faster than corticosteroids. 16 Corticosteroids have distressing and disabling adverse effects, including dependency, in leprosy patients treated for reactions, especially type 2 reactions because of their long duration. 22 Thalidomide may be used to wean patients off longterm steroids, with or without the addition of clofazimine. 23,24 Patients with ENL who are already taking corticosteroids respond more slowly to thalidomide than do naive patients. Clofazimine and ENL There is no doubt that clofazimine is useful in the prevention and management of ENL. 25 In one Indian study, 15 of 20 patients were free of reaction after 3 months, and ve improved, 26 while in another, 22 of
8 292 Commentaries Table 1. Double blind controlled trials of thalidomide in type 2 leprosy reactions. Table adapted from Teo et al. 12 Study Trial site Design Subjects Dose mg/day) Duration Clinical ndings Sheskin & Venezuela Double blind Convit 7 placebo control; crossover Pearson & Malaysia Double blind Vedagiri 8 active control; crossover Waters 9 Malaysia Double blind placebo control; crossover Iyer et al. 10 India, Mali, Somalia, Spain Double blind active control; aspirin) F) days Improvement in 78 of 85 92%) thalidomide and only 24 of 88 27%) placebo courses 12 1 F) 300 4±6 weeks Thalidomide decreased severity of ENL and requirements for steroids weeks Patients taking thalidomide required 60% less steroids; temperature and severity of ENL also less 92 M days After 2 days, only 25% of thalidomidetreated patients had fever; 65% aspirintreated patients had fever. Thalidomide was more ef cacious in regressing skin lesions 30 responded. 27 The 7th WHO Expert Committee pointed out that it may take 4±6 weeks before clofazimine becomes effective, and that it should not be started on its own in severe reactions. 2 Dyspigmentation in pale skins, and abdominal pain may limit its use over long periods. 28,29 Thalidomide side effects Thalidomide has well recognized side-effects. 12 Drowsiness, rash and constipation are not serious. Peripheral neuropathy has rarely if ever been noted in patients with leprosy, but in other conditions rates may exceed 20%. The cause of this differential toxicity is not understood. Teratogenicity is the important problem, for which reason it should not be prescribed for women of childbearing age. However, the danger of these side effects has to be balanced against the utility of this drug in treating a distressing and disabling condition that can extend over many years. The future of thalidomide While we share Dr Pannikar's concern over the uncontrolled distribution of thalidomide in its wider application outside the eld of leprosy, we nd it dif cult to understand why the WHO leprosy unit should downplay the seriousness of reactions in leprosy, ignore the scienti c evidence of the value of thalidomide and attempt to deny leprosy patients such a valuable drug. The United States STEPS Program System for Thalidomide Education and Prescribing Safety), designed to regulate the use of thalidomide has shown that this drug can be used safely and pregnancy avoided if there is co-operation
9 Commentaries 293 between governments and the pharmaceutical industry. In the eld of leprosy thalidomide is not and would not be available at primary health centres, but should be available to trained staff at all referral centres. We would urge the WHO leprosy unit to take the lead in ensuring that thalidomide is available to those leprosy patients who need it, as recommended by the Expert Committee. References 1 Pannikar V. The return of thalidomide: new uses and renewed concerns. WHO Pharmaceuticals News Letter, No. 2, available at 2 WHO. WHO Expert Committee on Leprosy, Seventh Report. World Health Organisation. Technical Report Series 874, Levy L, Fasal P, Levan NE, Freedman RI. Treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum with thalidomide. Lancet, 1973; 2: 324± Nery JA, Vieira LM, de Matos HJ et al. Reactional states in multibacillary Hansen disease patients during multidrug therapy. Rev Inst MedTrop Sao Paulo, 1998; 40: 363± Schreuder PA. The occurrence of reactions and impairments in leprosy: experience in the leprosy control program of three provinces in northeastern Thailand, 1987±1995 [correction of 1978±1995]. II. Reactions. Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis, 1998; 66: 159± Van Brakel WH, Khawas IB, Lucas SB. Reactions in leprosy: an epidemiological study of 386 patients in west Nepal. Lepr Rev, 1994; 65: 190± Sheskin J, Convit J. Results of a double blind study of the in uence of thalidomide on the lepra reaction. Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis, 1969; 37: 135± Pearson JM, Vedagiri M. Treatment of moderately severe erythema nodosum leprosum with thalidomideða double-blind controlled trial. Lepr Rev, 1969; 40: 111± Waters MF. An internally-controlled double blind trial of thalidomide in severe erythema nodosum leprosum. Lepr Rev, 1971; 42: 26± Iyer CG, Languillon J, Ramanujam K et al. WHO co-ordinated short-term double-blind trial with thalidomide in the treatment of acute lepra reactions in male lepromatous patients. Bull WorldHealth Org, 1971; 45: 719± Cazort RJ, Ye KS. A trial of thalidomide in progressive lepra reactions. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp, 1966; 8: 299± Teo SK, Resztak KE, Schef er MA et al. Thalidomide in the treatment of leprosy. Microbes Infect, 2002; 4: 1193± Iyer CG, Ramu G. An open trial with clofazimine in the management of recurrent lepra reaction using thalidomide as a control drug. Lepr Ind, 1976; 48: 690± Magora A, Rozin R, Sagher F et al. Controlled follow-up assessment of the effect of thalidomide upon the ulnar nerve in leprosy. Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis, 1971; 39: 863± Belda W, Manzoli S, Jordy CF. [Thalidomide in the control of pain in leprotic neuritis]. Hospital Rio J), 1966; 70: 731± Languillon J. The effects of thalidomide on leprosy reaction. Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis, 1971; 39: 590± Sheskin J. The treatment of lepra reaction in lepromatous leprosy. Fifteen years' experience with thalidomide. Int J Dermatol, 1980; 19: 318± Theophilus S. Treatment with thalidomide in steroid dependency and neuritis. Lepr Ind, 1980; 52: 423± Sheskin J, Magora A, Sagher F. Motor conduction velocity studies in patients with leprosy reaction treated with thalidomide and other drugs. Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis, 1969; 37: 359± Magora A, Sheskin J, Sagher F, Gonen B. The condition of the peripheral nerve in leprosy under various forms of treatment. Conduction velocity studies in long-term follow-up. Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis, 1970; 38: 149± Moreira AL, Kaplan G, Villahermosa LG et al. Comparison of pentoxifylline, thalidomide and prednisone in the treatment of ENL. Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis, 1998; 66: 61± Sugumaran DS. Leprosy reactionsðcomplications of steroid therapy. Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis, 1998; 66: 10± Ramu G,.Girdhar A. Treatment of steroid dependant cases of recurrent lepra reaction with a combination of thalidomide and clofazimine. Lepr Ind, 1979; 51: 497± Parikh DA, Ganapati R, Revankar CR. Thalidomide in leprosyðstudy of 94 cases. IndJ Lepr, 1986; 58: 560± Arunthathi S, Satheesh KK. Does clofazimine have a prophylactic role against neuritis? Lepr Rev, 1997; 68: 233± Burte NP, Chandorkar AG, Muley MP et al. Clofazimine in lepra ENL) reaction, one year clinical trial. Lepr Ind, 1983; 55: 265± Mishra B, Girdhar BK. Limitations of clofazimine in the treatment of lepra reactions. IndJ Lepr, 1986; 58: 73±78.
10 294 Commentaries 28 Sukpanichnant S, Hargrove NS, Kachintorn U et al. Clofazimine-induced crystal-storing histiocytosis producing chronic abdominal pain in a leprosy patient. Am J Surg Pathol, 2000; 24: 129± Jopling WH. Complicationsof treatment with clofazimine Lamprene: B663). Lepr Rev, 1976; 47: 1±3. The return of thalidomide: new uses and renewed concernsðreply Ben Naafs, Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands, Regional Dermatology Training Centre, Moshi, Tanzania and Instituto Lauro de Souza Lima ILSL) Bauru SP, Brazil When I read Dr. Pannikar's article, `The return of thalidomide: new uses and renewed concerns', I suddenly understood why the EU committee was so reluctant to follow my advice, through the Dutch representative, to register thalidomide, though under restriction. She told me that the WHO, in the person of Dr Pannikar, had given negative advice on the use of thalidomide in ENL. At that time I did not believe it, because asfar asi knew of Dr Pannikar'sbackground, he had little hands-on experience with thalidomide. But `soit' because it would involve politics I left it. However, since Dr. Pannikar's paper, which I had not seen before, came under attack by Dr Gerson Fernando Mendes Pereira, who in rightful anger exposed himself to critics, I would like to comment. Dr Pannikar has written a paper as a WHO leprosy representative and that gives the paper a lot of weight, which according to me it doesnot deserve. Being a WHO paper, I would expect it to be properly researched, which it certainly isnot. The tone isdemagogic and it containsa number of inaccurate statements. Thalidomide wasmarketed asa sleeping pill, but when it wason the market it wasfound to have a pronounced effect on morning sickness and, since it seemed to be safe, it became widely prescribed. The history, as written by Dr Pannikar, is well known and it is mentioned rightly in most of the papers on thalidomide. We should never forget that Dr Lenz' book, which is in Dr Pannikar's reference list, describes it vividly and teaches us a lesson. This should never happen again, but that applies for all treatmentsand medications. However it doesnot imply that thalidomide hasno place in medicine. Dr Pannikar's paper is a political paper and probably an emotional one at least I hope so, otherwise I do not understand it at all), but it lacks scienti c support. Twenty- ve percent of his references are not free from those sentiments and were not written as scienti c papers should be. Sixty percent of the quoted references are from 30 years ago, when dapsone monotherapy was still in use and dapsone resistance with relapses and consequent reactions was common. They are papers that would not pass the present criteria for scienti c evidence. That certainly does not mean that the studies are not carefully done and that the observations are not sound, but that the data should be interpreted in the context of present knowledge. What he clearly states is, that `there is no place for thalidomide in leprosy'. I wonder: are all the other leprologists wrong? On an -based leprosy discussion group, in response to a question on the treatment of ENL, I read seven responses by senior leprologists, all certainly familiar with the data on which Dr Pannikar based his `no place for thalidomide'. Six of them mention thalidomide, some quite strongly and one even asked that it should be made available! Some of them warn against steroids, which are, for Dr Pannikar, a main treatment option. I fully agree with Dr Gerson that Dr Pannikar's claim, `that the activity of thalidomide against ENL is mainly due to its antipyretic action', is not based on a thorough study of the literature. Though much is still unknown, a simple PubMed search produces quite a number of review articles on its action e.g. Meierhofer et al., Biodrugs, 2001; 15: 681). It isclear that the antipyretic action isonly an epiphenomenon. The actual action ismuch more complicated, and pointsto immunomodulating properties. This is what makes the drug so fascinating! Dr Pannikar states, defending alternative drug regimens, that `controlled studies have been done, showing that prednisolone is more effective in controlling ENL and associated neuritis'. He quotes, to underline hispoint, two books, which were written 25 yearsago, and a policy document. But he doesnot
11 Commentaries 295 mention an internally controlled clinical trial that was favourable for thalidomide. Waters et al., Lepr Rev, 1971; 42: 167). However, the problem is that, over the years, very few controlled studies have been done on the treatment of ENL and for that matter on all leprosy reactions conclusion of a working group on reactions at the World leprosy congress in Beijing, 1998). From our own research and based on our own experience with thalidomide and prednisolone, I agree with him that at the initial period of treatment of an ENL neuritis, prednisolone, due to its strong anti-oedema action, is more effective than thalidomide. But I doubt whether it is still the drug of choice after that period and for other manifestations of ENL, which can be a multi-organ disease. Side-effects of steroid treatment in chronic and recurrent ENL are frequently encountered, while, nevertheless, permanent damage ensues. Some warn strongly against it. For many it is the reason to look for alternative treatments. Dr Pannikar proposes clofazimine for this purpose. He even calls it the drug of choice. Most leprologists will agree that it has certainly a place in the treatment of ENL, but others who have access to thalidomide, Dr Diltor Opromolla for instance, have strong doubts. Dr Pannikar defends the use of clofazimine with observations made in the mid-1960s that clofazimine had an anti-in ammatory effect. Again, it was the time of dapsone mono-therapy and resistance, the latter being responsible for bacterial multiplication. Treatment with clofazimine took care of this multiplication induced ENL Burte et al., Lepr Ind, 1983; 55: 256), but was this due to its anti-in ammatory action or to its anti-mycobacterial activity? Having recently reviewed available data, in preparation for a manuscript together with Dr Pieter Schreuder, I agree that clofazimine may have some suppressing effect on ENL. But it takes time to establish, and one wonders whether we are looking at the normal course of the disease or at an effect of treatment. Only a controlled trial can solve this dilemma. I have to agree with Dr Pannikar that the introduction of MDT has diminished the number of ENL reactions compared with monotherapy Post et al., Ned Tijdsc. Geneesk, 1994; 138). However, after the cessation of MDT, the reaction may still appear. I fully disagree that since the introduction of MDT, ENL is a rare complication. Depending on the accuracy of the data and the effectiveness of the programme in the early detection of leprosy, together with regional differences, which are as yet unexplained, still some 10±60% of the lepromatous patients develop ENL. I would not call that rare! The observation that ENL does not reappear after clofazimine treatment is due to a bias, because ENL is treated with clofazimine till everything is under control, which can be for months. Only later is it discontinued. When steroids and/or thalidomide are given for the same period, the reaction will neither re-appear. It has been shown that thalidomide is a perfect inhibitor of ENL. Kaplan G, Lepr Rev, 2000; 71: S120.) In the section on thalidomide for other conditions, Dr Pannikar is more careful, although he is off the mark when he claims that there are only limited trials demonstrating the effectiveness of thalidomide in conditions other than leprosy. A simple PubMed search will result in more than 1000 papers. I used thalidomide with success in a number of conditions Naafs and Faber, Int J Dermatol, 1985; 24: 131) for 25 years. It is, however, no panacea. I naturally fully agree that a proper monitoring system should be in use and that adequate measures should be taken to prevent pregnancy. That is evident. But nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that thalidomide, by itself, may cause nerve damage Naafs and Faber, Int J Dermatol, 1985; 24: 131). This should be controlled too. Nerve damage may also be induced when thalidomide is used in leprosy Naafs, unpublished observation). In conclusion, I feel he oversteps evidence again, by suggesting that a large number of thalidomide babies are born each year. Other drugs retinoids, cocaine, traditional medicines) and genetic conditions can results in similar abnormalities to those caused by thalidomide. Not every amelia or phocomelia is due to thalidomide. Last, but not least, Dr Pannikar seems to have forgotten what he wrote earlier with Dr Noordeen in the famous Manson's Tropical Diseases edited by Gordon C. Cook 1996), Chapter 58, pages 1016±1044). Just two citations: `The main therapeutic weapons in the treatment of reactional states are steroids, clofazimine and, where not contraindicated, thalidomide', and `Thalidomide is also an effective drug in the treatment of ENL reaction'.
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