Chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) refractory to standard immunosuppressive therapy remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (BMT). Thalidomide may be effective in some patients with high-risk or refractory chronic GVHD. We report a single-institution study of thalidomide in 37 BMT patients with extensive chronic GVHD refractory to standard immunosuppressive therapy. Acute GVHD occurred in 34 (91%) of patients and evolved progressively into chronic GVHD in 23 (62%) patients. Thalidomide was added to standard immunosuppressive therapy a median of 11 months (range 0-105 months) after the diagnosis of chronic GVHD. Fourteen of 37 (38%) patients responded after introduction of thalidomide (one complete, 13 partial). Ten of 21 (46%) children and four of 16 (25%) adults responded. Responses were seen in eight of 17 (47%) recipients of related donor marrow and six of 20 (30%) recipients of unrelated donor marrow. Eight of 23 (34%) patients with progressive onset of chronic GVHD showed a response. There were no deaths among the responders. The remaining 23 patients (62%) did not respond and of these only two survive, one with progressive scleroderma, and the other with bronchiolitis obliterans. Chronic GVHD with associated infection (most commonly disseminated fungal infection) was a major contributor to mortality in all cases. Overall, after initiation of thalidomide, the 2-year Kaplan-Meier survival was 41% (95% C.I. 24%-59%). We conclude that thalidomide is a useful and well-tolerated therapy for patients with previously treated refractory chronic GVHD, including those with progressive onset of chronic GVHD, recipients of unrelated donor marrow, and children. Earlier introduction of thalidomide as an adjunct to standard immunosuppressive therapy may lead to more frequent responses and possible better survival.
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This work was supported in part by grants (CA 21737 and IPO1CA65493–01) from the National Cancer Institute.