Sidebar: Researchers Explore Thalidomide's Therapeutic Potential

Firms are focusing on getting the teratogen to market to treat serious diseases; if successful, it may inspire fresh looks at other compounds.
Thirty-five years after the effects of thalidomide horrified the world, the drug is teaching researchers a whole new set of lessons. This time, though, the message is positive: Working together, companies and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can indeed pursue important new compounds-even when those substances cause birth defects. Today's thalidomide research-if successful-could motivate pharmaceutical firms to consider expanding research on other dangerous, yet badly needed, drugs.

Sold outside the United States as a sedative and morning sickness treatment in the 1950s and 1960s, thalidomide caused thousands of babies to be born with malformed arms and legs. In the wake of the disaster, FDA created guidelines for preclinical animal tests to learn if a new compound causes birth defects before...

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