Health Highlights: March 20, 201303/20/13
Here are some of the latest health and medical news
developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Virus-Based Melanoma Drug Shows Promise
For the first time, a cancer drug based on a tumor-killing virus
has been successful in a late-stage study.
The drug, called talimogene laherparepvec (TVEC), was tested in
a phase 3 clinical trial that included patients with advanced
melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.
Sixteen percent of the patients who received the drug had
significant shrinkage of their tumors that lasted at least six
months, compared with 2 percent of those in a control group,
The New York Timesreported.
Drug maker Amgen said TVEC had met the primary goal of the
clinical trial. However, the company said that while people taking
TVEC were living longer, it was too soon to determine if the drug
had improved survival. That question may be answered later this
TVEC was developed by modifying the herpes simplex virus (which
causes cold sores) so that it replicates in fast-growing cancer
cells but not in healthy ones. It also contains an implanted
protein that stimulates the immune system,
Amgen did not say if it planned to use the clinical trial
results to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for
TVEC, which is injected directly into skin tumors.
Efforts to develop this type of approach to cancer treatment --
called oncolytic viruses -- have been ongoing for years and other
companies are also trying to create these types of drugs.
While these new findings that an oncolytic virus was effective,
TVEC might not prove that successful as a melanoma drug, according
to Dr. Antoni Ribas, a melanoma specialist at the University of
California, Los Angeles.
One reason is that only about one-third of advanced melanoma
patients have tumors on or near the skin that can be injected,
while others have tumors that spread to places such as the brain or
liver, Ribas told
He also noted that two important drugs for melanoma were
approved in 2011, raising the level of expectations for new
Doctors Urge FDA to Take Action on Energy Drinks
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should take action to
protect children and teens from the possible risks of consuming
large amounts of caffeine contained in energy drinks, says a group
of 18 doctors, public health experts and researchers.
In their letter to the FDA, the group said energy drink makers
have failed to prove that the ingredients used in their products
are safe. Because of this, the group said the FDA should limit
caffeine content in the beverages and force makers to include
caffeine content on product labels,
The New York Timesreported.
"There is evidence in the published scientific literature that the caffeine levels in energy drinks pose serious potential health risks," the group's letter said.
The letter also noted that energy drink manufacturers
aggressively market their products to teens and urge them to
consume the drinks quickly,
Energy drink makers insist their products are safe.
Bioethics Panel Gives Cautious OK to Testing Anthrax Vaccine in
Children should be allowed to take part in clinical trials for
vaccines and other treatments to protect against bioterrorism
attacks only if there is "minimal risk" that is no worse than a
checkup at a doctor's office, according to a report by the
President's Bioethics Commission.
"Research involving children is ethically distinct from research on adults," said commission chairwoman Amy Gutmann, USA Todayreported.
She noted that, morally and legally, children cannot give
consent to volunteer for medical experiments. However, biodefense
officials say that without testing these treatments on children,
doctors won't know if they are giving safe or effective doses of
them to youngsters in the event of a bioterrorism attack, such as
one involving anthrax.
The federal government has large stockpiles of treatments for
biological, chemical, radiation or nuclear attacks, but "a high
percentage of them haven't been tested at all for how they should
be given to children," said Steven Krug, chairman of the American
Academy of Pediatrics' disaster preparedness advisory council,
Among its recommendations, the commission said children should
only be included in clinical trials of bioterrorism treatments if
previous studies have shown a lack of serious side effects in
animals and adults.
In addition, testing should first be done on older teens ages
16-17, who more closely resemble adults, before testing is
conducted on younger children. The commission also said money
should be set aside to compensate children and teens who suffer
side effects from the clinical trials,
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