Hybrid compounds formed from structural features of the antinausea agent thalidomide and curcumin, an active ingredient in the common kitchen spice turmeric, destroyed multiple myeloma cells in recent lab experiments.

A team led by Shijun Zhang of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Pharmacy in Richmond, Virginia, designed the hybrid molecules. According to information in a VCU statement accompanying the release of the findings in Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry (2013;11[29]:4757-4763), laboratory studies have shown that curcumin inhibits the formation of cancer-causing enzymes in rodents. Thalidomide was reintroduced into use in the late 1990s as a treatment for multiple myeloma, after being taken off the market in 1962 because it was found to cause birth defects.

Zhang noted in the VCU statement that thalidomide disturbs the microenvironment of tumor cells in bone marrow but that the drug disintegrates in the body. Curcumin is limited in its anticancer activity by its poor water solubility. However, “The combination of thalidomide and curcumin in the hybrid molecules enhances both the cytotoxicity and solubility,” explained Zhang.

The hybrid compounds exhibited lethal effects on cell models of human multiple myeloma, and the combination of curcumin and thalidomide was significantly more potent than either agent alone. The investigators concluded that the curcumin-and-thalidomide hybrid should be studied further as a treatment for multiple myeloma.