Safety and efficacy of thalidomide in patients with POEMS syndrome: a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial

Lancet Neurol. 2016 Oct;15(11):1129-37. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(16)30157-0. Epub 2016 Aug 3.


Background: Polyneuropathy, organomegaly, endocrinopathy, M-protein, and skin changes (POEMS) syndrome is a rare cause of demyelinating neuropathy, with multi-organ involvement characterised by plasma cell dyscrasia and VEGF overproduction. No treatments have been established for patients with POEMS syndrome who are not eligible for stem-cell transplantation. Thalidomide suppresses VEGF and plasma cell proliferation. We aimed to assess the safety and efficacy of thalidomide for the treatment of POEMS syndrome.

Methods: We did a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 2/3 trial at 12 hospitals in Japan. Adults (age ≥20 years) with POEMS syndrome who were ineligible for autotransplantation were randomly assigned (1:1) by a minimisation method to treatment with oral dexamethasone (12 mg/m(2) per day on the first 4 days of every 28-day cycle) plus either oral thalidomide (200 mg daily) or placebo for six cycles. All study personnel and patients were masked to treatment allocation. The primary endpoint was the reduction rate of serum VEGF concentrations at 24 weeks. Analysis was by intention to treat. This study is registered with the UMIN Clinical Trials Registry, UMIN000004179.

Findings: Between Nov 11, 2010, and July 3, 2014, we randomly assigned 25 patients to receive either thalidomide (n=13) or placebo (n=12); one patient in the placebo group was excluded from analyses because of a protocol violation. The adjusted mean VEGF concentration reduction rate at 24 weeks was 0·39 (SD 0·34) in the thalidomide group compared with -0·02 (0·54) in the placebo group (adjusted mean difference 0·41, 95% CI 0·02-0·80; p=0·04). Mild sinus bradycardia was more frequent in the thalidomide group than in the placebo group (seven [54%] vs zero; p=0·006). Five patients had serious adverse events: three in the thalidomide group (transient cardiac arrest, heart failure, and dehydration) and two in the placebo group (ileus and fever). No deaths occurred during the randomised study. In the 48-week open-label study period (n=22), newly developed adverse events were sinus bradycardia (n=4), constipation (n=5), and mild sensory neuropathy (n=5). Two patients died in the open-label study; both patients were initially in the placebo group, and the cause of death was progression of the disease.

Interpretation: Thalidomide reduces serum VEGF concentrations and represents a new treatment for patients with POEMS syndrome who are not eligible for stem-cell transplantation. Thalidomide treatment poses a risk of bradycardia; however, the benefits are likely to exceed the risk.

Funding: Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, and Fujimoto Pharmaceuticals.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Dexamethasone / administration & dosage
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • POEMS Syndrome / blood
  • POEMS Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Thalidomide / administration & dosage
  • Thalidomide / adverse effects
  • Thalidomide / pharmacology*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / blood
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / drug effects*


  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • VEGFA protein, human
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Thalidomide
  • Dexamethasone