Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cancer drug Rituxan slows multiple sclerosis progression

Two infusions of the cancer drug Rituxan given two weeks apart slowed the progression of multiple sclerosis for nearly a year, researchers reported on Wednesday.
Multiple sclerosis, which affects as many as 350,000 people in the United States and 2 million worldwide, is apparently caused when the immune system attacks and breaks down the insulation surrounding cells that make up the brain and spinal cord.

MS symptoms may include blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, extreme fatigue, paralysis and blindness. There is no cure.

Although no head-to-head comparison has been done, Hauser said Rituxan appears to work better than existing therapies.

His team tested patients with the relapsing-remitting form of the disease, in which symptoms wax and wane over many years, making it difficult to gauge whether a treatment is really working. They make up about half the patients with MS.

To assess the progress of the Rituxan treatments, they used magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scans to see damage to the nervous system.
The number of lesions they could see dropped immediately after the two shots.

Within 12 weeks, there were almost no old or new lesions, while the number of lesions on volunteers who received placebo shots tended to stay the same or increase in number.

But the drug was not as good at preventing relapses.

After 48 weeks, 20 percent of the 69 Rituxan recipients had suffered a relapse. That was still much better than the 35 patients who got placebo injections and had a relapse rate of 40 percent.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Antiepileptic drugs may boost the risk of suicide

Commonly used antiepileptic drugs may boost the risk of suicide among patients who use them.
A review of 199 studies comparing 11 of these drugs to placebos found that patients taking the drugs had about twice the risk of suicidal behavior compared with patients taking a placebo. In fact, of the almost 44,000 patients in the studies, four people taking antiepileptic drugs committed suicide while none of the patients receiving a placebo did.
Currently, some of drug labels do list suicide or suicidal behavior as a side effect, but others don't.
The drugs included in the warning are: Carbamazepine (marketed as Carbatrol, Equetro, Tegretol, Tegretol XR), Felbamate (marketed as Felbatol), Gabapentin (marketed as Neurontin), Lamotrigine (marketed as Lamictal), Levetiracetam (marketed as Keppra), Oxcarbazepine (marketed as Trileptal), Pregabalin (marketed as Lyrica), Tiagabine (marketed as Gabitril), Topiramate (marketed as Topamax), Valproate (marketed as Depakote, Depakote ER, Depakene, Depacon) and Zonisamide (marketed as Zonegran). Some of these drugs are also available as generics.

The 11 drugs listed above were included in the studies the FDA analyzed. However, the agency expects that the increased risk of suicidality is present in all antiepileptic drugs and so the labeling changes will be applied to all drugs in the class.

As of now, the FDA is advising patients not to make any changes in their medication without talking to their doctor.