UK pharmas call for debate on drug access


London: The pharmaceutical industry today called for a public debate on access to modern medicines, and how society determines the value of new treatments.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) is inviting NICE, patient groups, medical professionals, the NHS and leading healthcare charities to debate the issues amid continuing controversy on the availability and cost of innovative medicines to NHS patients.

“A frank, open and honest debate is clearly in the interests of patients,” said Chris Brinsmead, President of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

“We are calling for the patient groups, healthcare charities, doctors, Government, NICE and the NHS to join with the pharmaceutical industry to debate these crucial issues to hammer out a lasting solution. The time has come to discuss how we best resolve the issue, and where better than on a public platform?”

The pharmaceutical industry spends approximately £3.9billion a year in the UK researching and developing new medicines for patients. This investment has delivered over 90 per cent of the medicines available today and has led to new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease and HIV to name but a few, Mr Brinsmead added.

He said: “The UK pharmaceutical industry – along with other healthcare professionals and NICE – is committed to developing innovative approaches to pricing, ensuring that patients receive the medicines that they need. Taking the recent example of the four kidney cancer medicines, all these medicines are widely available to patients throughout Europe – where the prices are higher than in the UK.”

Mr Brinsmead said: “We are looking forward to hearing NICE’s response and welcome their contribution to what will be one of the most important debates in the history of modern healthcare.”

Image – Boy and Medicine: courtesy of MedicImage

Israeli scientists invent robot ‘sub’ that travels through human veins

Tel Aviv: Israeli scientists have created a robot ‘submarine’ which is so small it can swim through the veins to provide medical treatment.

Dr Nir Schwalb, of the Judea and Samaria College, and Oded Salomon, of the Israel Institute of Technology, say their machine has the unique ability to ‘crawl’ through tubes the width of blood vessels and is even able to travel against the flow of blood, using magnetic power, as it passes through veins and arteries.

Previous micro-robots have been too large to enter the smallest and most complex areas of the body but the latest is one millimetre in diameter and has tiny arms which allow it to ‘grip’ as it travels along. The robot is still in development but it is hoped that in future it may be used to treat a variety of diseases including cancer.

Mr Salomon said: ‘We believe we have created a robot that will be tiny enough to pass through the body and at the same time have navigational abilities for performing-complex medical tasks. We are discussing with doctors from many different fields which application will be most useful.

Micro-surgery is usually carried out with catheters and endoscopes which are far too large for most parts of the body.

Botox tests for alopecia go ahead

New York: Scientists are investigating whether Botox, the brand name for botulinum toxin, can be used to treat the common cause of hair loss – alopecia areata.

The disease which can affect the scalp and parts of the body, affects adults and children and is the cause of sudden hair loss.

Patients suffering from the disease are to be given Botox injections in the scalp in a six-month trial at British Columbia University.

It is thought that Botox will work by blocking the action of neurotransmitters which will block the chemical reaction that attacks the hair follicles.

Obesity baloon operation now available in UK

London:As the UK obesity rate continues to climb and more than two thirds of the population are deemed clinically overweight, one of the country’s leading medical groups is to offer an innovative ‘Diet Balloon’ treatment for the first time in the UK.

Billed as a lifestyle changing treatment, the procedure is two-fold offering an innovative, balloon, designed to suppress appetite by filling the stomach, and a six-month diet and wellbeing aftercare programme.

In order to ensure the patient breaks their bad habits and increase their chances of losing the weight and keeping it off, the procedure is managed by a qualified team of experts including dieticians, endoscopists, doctors and nutritionists.

Ultralase Medical Aesthetics (UMA) has introduced the treatment in the UK following the successful launch by its parent company, Corporacion Dermoestetica, in Europe, where over 300 patients have already completed the Diet Balloon programme.

The initial procedure is straightforward and does not involve general anaesthetic or surgery: a silicone intragastric balloon is inserted into the stomach (via the mouth and oesophagus, under sedation) and is filled with liquid so it partially fills the stomach and creates a feeling of fullness.

An intensive support programme is then put in place with a nutritionist, who examines diet, eating habits (including favourite restaurants) and offers a lifestyle ‘bible’ of tips to keep temptation at bay and stave off bad eating habits for good!

The programme involves regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings, text reminders and access to 24-hour access to a dedicated qualified specialist by phone.

“For patients who are obese and have failed medical therapy, the intra-gastric balloon is a welcomed and effective next step. It can also be used as a bridge to weight reducing surgery or in place of such surgery especially in patients who may be deemed too high an operative risk or who do not want invasive surgery”, says Dr Jude Oben, consultant gastroenterologist.

Anne-Marie Holdsworth, UMA’s consultant nutritionist comments: “Often with any new diet you have an initial burst of confidence that helps you make the required changes. However, over time, this often wanes and old habits creep back in as your willpower eventually begins to crumble.”

Ultralase Medical Aesthetics’ weight loss programme is designed to help overcome all the obstacles associated with dieting; what to eat when dining out, how to steel yourself from reaching for the chocolate bar when watching your favourite TV programme. Most of all it encourages patients to change their lifestyle habits and break away from the couch and get active instead.

Anne-Marie again: “Because the focus is placed firmly on re-educating people about their eating choices over a sustained length of time – the Diet Balloon doesn’t offer a ‘quick fix’ weight loss solution. Its aim to promote a total lifestyle change, is what I believe will be a key factor in its success.”

For patients who are obese and have failed medical therapy, the intra-gastric balloon is a welcomed and effective next step. It can also be used as a bridge to weight reducing surgery or in place of such surgery especially in patients who may be deemed too high an operative risk or who do not want invasive surgery.

Ultralase Medical Aesthetics will only recommend the procedure after detailed consultations with the patient, and after the Diet Balloon has been inserted there is a continuous after-care programme during the maximum six-month period the balloon remains in place.

In the largest study conducted on intragastric balloon effectiveness, 323 patients underwent the procedure and lost on average 48% of their excess weight. The study, undertaken in Brazil, demonstrated that the balloon was highly effective and safe, with a low risk of major side effects.

Dr. Jude Oben has appeared in:

Channel 5 TV – Doctor-Doctor, August 2006: Obesity and Fatty Liver
BBC TV – City Hospital, May 2006: Obesity and Fatty Liver

Obesity figures supplied by ONS survey, < ahref="">

The treatment is currently available at four UK clinics; Hammersmith, Guildford, Chelmsford and St Albans.

A full consultation is required prior to considering the procedure to determine the history and suitability of the patient.

The intragastric balloon procedure was first developed in the 1980s and is recognised as a safe and effective means for achieving significant weight loss amongst obese patients whose health is at risk because of their condition and who have failed to lose and maintain weight loss through weight-control programmes.

It can also be used for severely-obese patients who need to lose weight before surgery (either for obesity or any other condition), in order to reduce surgical risk.

Jelly supports damaged discs to fight back pain

An injection of a jelly-like substance into damaged spinal discs could cure back pain for many sufferers.

A trial taking place in the US and Europe, in which patients with disc problems are injected with a liquid that becomes a jelly in the disc, restoring function in the early stages of degenertive problems. The treatments means it is less likely patients will need surgery in future and the spine is likely to remain more flexible.

At the moment disc back pain is treated with painkillers, physiotherapy and surgery where the disc is removed and a bone graft inserted, but this may lead to spinal stiffness.

This new treatment can be used alongside what is known as microdiscectomy operation, in which the soft inner core of the disc is removed to reduce pressure on the surrounding nerves. The new material then injected into the space created when the old filling is surgically removed from the disc.

More information at

Simple skin test for Alzheimer’s

New York: US doctors are developing a skin test that could detect Alzheimer’s at an earlier stage.

Currently there is no way to detect the disease in which doctors believe may begin before symptoms show in old age. There is also no cure.

Early detection would mean that intervention with drugs that assist in minimising some symptoms may be more helpful if given earlier.

The new test is based on the discovery that the disease causes a change in a common body enzyme which means it can be detected by its reaction to certain chemicals.

The US team from the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Maryland hope to bring the test to patients within five years. Doctors Tapan Khan and Daniel Alkon report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Brain stem stells may restore walking ability

Toronto: Spinal-cord damage resulting in paralysis may soon be treated with brain stem cells allowing patients to walk again, according to a new Canadian study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Although the study has been carried out on rats, human research is predicted to begin in five to ten years.

Neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Fehlings, of the Krembil Neuroscience Center at Toronto Western Research Institute led a team that injected stem cells extracted from mouse brains to the injury site of paralysed rats with spinal injuries.

The rats were also given a drug cocktail including growth hormone, cyclosporine to prevent rejection and the anti-inflammatory minocycline, which researchers believe attributed to the success of the therapy by reducing the spinal cord inflammation and cell damage and boosting the survival of stem cells.

Researchers found that rats receiving the stem cells restored their walking ability although the injections of stem cells could not completely restore the lost capability.

Fehling said the team had not aimed to regrow the spinal cord but to attempt replacement of one cell type.

The type of cells used in the study was neural precursor cells, which are extracted from mouse brains and ready to turn into a central nervous system cell. Researchers said 30 percent of the stem cells could survive the t ransplant process and help the recipients repair the spinal cord damage.

The researchers said it was necessary for the recipients’ to have viable nerve fibres for the stem cell therapy to work. The stem cells injected in the spinal cord work to develop myelin, the insulating layer around nerve fibers that transmits signals to the brain. About 50 percent of patients have the nerve fibers intact when they get injured. The sooner the therapy is administered also assists in a more effective outcome.

The treatment may as well be applicable to humans, according to the researchers, because the stem cells used for the injection may be extracted from the patients’ own brains using a biopsy needle. Stem cells can be extracted from brains other people donate.

Stem cells are present in many parts of the body such as bone marrow, fetuses, embryos, u mbilical cord b lood and even t eeth. Stem cell research is a hot issue because much of the research would involve fetuses and or embryos, which draws objections from many people. But researchers said the neural precursor cells used are adult stem cells that only help produce nerve cells.

“Walkman” that lowers blood pressure

A gadget which helps the user lower blood pressure without drugs, has been launched.

It looks like a CDWalkman, helps open up blood vessels that have become narrowed, causing a build-up of pressure. It works by changing and slowing breathing patterns, which lowers blood pressure.

The device is called Resperate and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The results of seven clinical trials were presented to doctors at a recent meeting of the British Hypertension Society.

The device works by picking up the breathing rate of a patient through a sensor worn on a belt round the chest.

Once the device has worked out the patient’s resting breathing rate, it creates an individual programme to guide it from, on average, 18 breaths a minute to ten, using calming music played through the headphones to encourage slower breathing.

Research has shown that just by making breathing slower and deeper, more oxygen is taken into the lungs and muscles surrounding blood vessels. If enough oxygen is not reaching these muscles they constrict, causing high blood pressure. Once the muscles relax, blood pressure is reduced.

Clinical trials of the machine revealed that ten breaths a minute brought blood pressure down to a safe level of 120/80. After three to four weeks, blood pressure should have reached a safe level. Patients then use the machine for 15 minutes three times a week to maintain this.

Resperate sends out two different-toned signals — one to tell the patient to breathe in, the other to exhale. As the exercise progresses, the tones the patient hears become longer, slowing down their breathing. Changes in lifestyle and diet are often to blame. Being overweight, eating too much salt and drinking too much alcohol are all factors

Dr William Elliott, a consultant at Rush Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, has carried out several trials with Resperate and is impressed. ‘It is as effective at controlling blood pressure as some drugs.’

ï RESPERATE costs £199 and is available in the UK from”> or by calling 0870 350 1264

Human embryos cloned to create stem cells

Human embryos have been cloned to create stem cells, in a scientific breakthrough that has opened the door to revolutionary treatment of spinal cord injuries and a wide range of incurable diseases.

In a breakthrough by Korean researchers, skin cells were taken from people with spinal injuries or genetic disorders and used in a cloning process to extract embryonic stem cells for future therapy.

The scientists yesterday revealed they had succeeded in creating 31 cloned human embryos, and cultivated 11 embryonic stem cell “lines”. The cell lines are cultures of “master” cells that can go on to become any type of cell in the body.

This may lead to treatments where stem cells are grown outside the body and then re-introduced without triggering an attack by the body’s immune system.

All the donated cells used to make the cloned embryos were from volunteers with spinal cord injuries, Type 1 diabetes or a genetic immune system disorder called hypogammaglobulinaemia.

The confirmation that it is possible to create embryonic stem cells that are a genetic match for an adult human also opens up the possibility that stem cells could be grown in a laboratory and then reinserted into a patient to repair or replace damaged organs.

As the DNA in the replicated cells would be identical to the patient’s, there should be no danger of the injected cells being attacked by the body’s own immune system.

The latest Korean research — published yesterday in the journal Science — came as British researchers announced they had also succeeded in producing a cloned human embryo, using the same technique of injecting genetic material from a donor cell into a human egg cell that had had its own genetic nucleus removed.
Unlike the Koreans, the British scientists have yet to extract any stem cells.

Australia currently bans this “nuclear transfer” procedure altogether, and the US has withdrawn government funding for it.

Britain and Korea allow it, but only for “therapeutic” reasons where the resulting “blastocyst” – a young embryo of about 100 cells – is used for medical research or treatment.

Many countries, including Britain, have banned so-called “reproductive cloning” that would result in a cloned baby, and many scientists worldwide – including those behind the Korean and British results – oppose its use for this purpose.

Curry cure for Alzheimer’s

One of the main ingredents in Indian curries may be a new weapon in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have found that curcumin, part of turmeric, which gives curry its yellow colour, stops the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids which are believed to be responsible for the disease.

In the UCLA study curcumin was crossed the blood-brain barrier to eliminate amyloid plaques. It also attacked the build-up of beta amyloid by as much as 21 per cent. Earlier studies by the same team found that curcumin was also a powerful antioxidant, with anti-inflammatory properties.

Curcumin, is ground from the root of a plant of the ginger family and grows wild in the Himalayas and South Asia. There is a low incidence of Alzheimer’s in India and other curry-eating countries. Turmeric has already been found to slow prostate cancer and is sold in capsules. Doctors believe that it may be used as a drug or supplement to prevent people developing Alzheimer’s in much the same was as statins are used to prevent heart attacks.

Doctors agree that amyloid plaques (abnormal build-ups of a protein fragment known as beta amyloids) are responsible for the memory loss which marks Alzheimer’s.

The results of the study which used mice, is published in the Journal Of Biological Chemistry, suggest that curcumin would not only prevent the build-up in patients who already have the degenerative brain disease, but act to block the plaques developing in the first place.

The UCLA team has now started human trials which could eventually lead to the development of a drug.