Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
U.S. drug regulators announced two major approvals this week. They said that a pill used to treat HIV infection can also be marketed for prevention. They also approved Qsymia, a weight-loss drug. In other drug news, researchers reported that four people taking Gammagard for Alzheimer's had no decline in mental function for three years. Another small study focused on children with egg allergy. It found that giving them tiny but increasing amounts of egg white powder each day helped some of them become able to eat eggs. Other research released this week compared men with early prostate cancer who received surgery or no treatment. Death rates were the same in both groups.
This Issue: Truvada Approved as 1st Pill to Prevent HIV Drug Stabilizes Alzheimer's Disease in Small Study Treatment Helps Some Kids with Egg Allergy FDA OKs 2nd New Weight-Loss Drug Study Sees No Benefit in Prostate Surgery
In the News:
Truvada Approved as 1st Pill to Prevent HIV
U.S. drug regulators this week approved the first pill for prevention of HIV infection. Truvada already is used to treat the infection. Now the drug maker, Gilead Sciences, can sell it for prevention as well. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Truvada for use by people who are at high risk of acquiring HIV through sex. An example would be someone whose regular sex partner has the infection. Truvada combines two drugs. It has been used for HIV treatment since 2004. But more recent research found that it also could prevent the disease. In a study of gay and bisexual men, Truvada cut the risk of infection by 42%. In heterosexual couples with one infected partner, it reduced the risk of infection in the other partner by 75%. The Associated Press wrote about the FDA decision.
Drug Stabilizes Alzheimer's Disease in Small Study
Four people who took a new treatment for Alzheimer's disease had no decline in memory or thinking for 3 years, researchers said this week. Experts said that although the study was very small, it's rare for people with this disease to be stable for 3 years. The new treatment is intravenous immune globulin, called Gammagard. It contains natural antibodies taken from donated blood. This product already is used to treat immune and blood disorders. In all, 24 patients began the study. Drug infusions were given every 2 weeks. Eleven people received various doses of Gammagard. Five received a placebo (fake) product. The other 8 people dropped out part way through the study. Some of them have died. Among the 11 taking Gammagard, the 4 who took the highest dose for 3 years had no decline in brain function. This dose now is being tested in a second study that includes 400 people. Others were given Gammagard in the higher dose after the first 6 months of the study. Their decline in brain function slowed after that. Researchers presented study results at a conference this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Treatment Helps Some Kids with Egg Allergy
Some children with egg allergies can build a tolerance for this food over time by eating carefully controlled daily doses, a study published this week concludes. The study included 55 children, ages 5 through 18. Forty were given very small doses of powdered egg white each day. The other 15 received cornstarch powder. The amount was increased slowly, every 2 weeks, to a maximum of 2 grams (about one-third of an egg). After 10 months, the 35 children who were still receiving egg doses took a "challenge" test in the doctor's office. This involved eating a larger amount of egg white powder, about 5 grams. Of this group, 22 passed the test. The others had allergic reactions. After 22 months, 30 passed a second challenge. They ate no egg for the next 4 to 6 weeks. Then they were given another challenge with egg white powder and cooked egg white. Eleven passed. After that, they were told they could eat eggs as they wished. There were no allergic reactions in another year of follow-up. Researchers cautioned that this treatment must only be given under a doctor's care. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study. The Associated Press wrote about it.
FDA OKs 2nd New Weight-Loss Drug
U.S. drug regulators approved a new weight-loss pill this week. It's the second approval in the last month, and may be the more effective of the two. Together, they are the first new prescription weight-loss drugs in the last 13 years. The newest drug, called Qsymia, is made by Vivus Inc. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the first approval in late June. That drug, Belviq, is made by Arena Pharmaceuticals. Qsymia is a combination of 2 drugs already on the market. Phentermine suppresses the appetite. Topirimate makes people feel satisfied and full longer. In the 1990s, doctors often prescribed phentermine along with a different drug, fenfluramine, for weight loss. But in 1997 the combination was linked to heart-valve problems. Fenfluramine was withdrawn from the market. The FDA is requiring further safety testing of Qsymia after approval. In prior studies, people who took the drug for a year lost 7% to 9% of their body weight. That's about double the 3% to 3.9% lost in studies of Belviq. The Associated Press wrote about the FDA decision.
Study Sees No Benefit in Prostate Surgery
A new study of men with early prostate cancer found no difference in death rates whether they received surgery or no treatment. The study adds to recent evidence that prostate cancer may be overtreated in the United States. The study included 731 men with early prostate cancer. Their average age was 67. They were randomly assigned to have immediate surgery or no treatment. People in each group lived an average of about 13 years after the study began. Nearly 6% of men in the surgery group and just over 8% in the no-treatment group died of prostate cancer. That difference was small enough that it could have been caused by chance. But there was some evidence of benefit for men with a score of 10 or higher on the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. Prostate cancer deaths were 33% lower for men with these higher scores who had surgery rather than no treatment. About 1 out of 5 men assigned to no treatment decided to have treatment later. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study this week. The New York Times News Service wrote about it.
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