News April 2003 Issue

In the News: 04/03

New Arthritis Drug Breaks The Marketing Mold—It’s Free
Abbot Laboratories, makers of the rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira, announced in January that it will provide its recently approved drug free to Medicare patients without drug coverage—at least until the government agrees to pay for it. The move, according to an article by reporter Bruce Japsen in the Chicago Tribune, “is part altruism and part marketing because the company’s drug is competing with a rival—Remicade—that has Medicare coverage. Humira would have less chance of being prescribed if it weren’t given away free.” While the government considers expanding federal health insurance for the elderly, drug companies have attempted to score with the public in a variety of ways. Humira, which faces competition from better known drugs, such as Remicade and Enbrel, slows the progression of RA by blocking the tumor necrosis factor protein, which causes inflammation that attacks the joints.

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Bone Fractures On the Increase—Vitamin A To Blame?
One out every four people in the U.S. will fracture a bone before reaching their 65th birthday. That is the conclusion of a recent study conducted by an orthopaedics research team in Houston, Texas, that tracked more than 135,000 adults and their dependents. Researchers also found the risk of fracture among people over age 45 to be higher in women than in men. This finding, confirmed by other studies, is considered attributable to the prevalence of osteoporosis among women as they age. Said study co-author Daniel P. O’Connoer, Ph.D., “As the American population becomes older in the coming years, the number of fractures per year....is likely to increase substantially.” Why so many bone breaks in the U.S.? According to Dr. Karl Michaelsson of University Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden, excessive intake of vitamin A may be the problem. In a study of 2,322 men aged 49-50, it was found that the routine use of vitamin supplements and the fortification of cereal products and dairy products with vitamin A might be an underlying cause of bone fracture—especially in countries like the U.S., where vitamin supplements are commonly used. Not everyone in the medical community agrees. Other physicians claim there’s a danger in calling for a vitamin restriction for people who already have low levels of vitamin A and may develop a vitamin deficiency.

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Finger Arthritis Called A Predictor of Heart Disease
Arthritic fingers may be a precursor of heart disease, according to a recent Finnish study. After tracking 8,000 subjects for 14 years, reseearchers found that men with osteoarthritis in any finger were 40 percent more likely to die of a heart attack than those without the disease. The study attrributed its findings primarily to two conditions: obesity and inflammation, a sign of osteoarthritis that is also thought to trigger heart disease. Why the association between heart disease and finger OA? According to Dr. Mikko Haara of Finland’s University of Kuopio, internal body factors, which play a key role in heart disease, assume a more important role in the development of finger osteoarthritis than in OA affecting weight-bearing joints—leading Harra and his researchers to conclude that finger OA and heart disease run a parallel course. Although the reason for the connection is unknown, one message remained clear: Control obesity and you’ll be at lower risk of OA and heart disease.

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Carbohydrates Identified As RA Culprit
An abnormal immune reaction to carbohydrates in joint cartilage may cause the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.That, at least, is the finding of researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Julia Yin Wang, who headed the study, said that although the reason for the unusual immune response is unclear, the immune system’s “mishandling” of carbohydrates called glycosaminologycans (CAGs) is an underlying cause of the disease. Until recently, research has focused on proteins, not carbohydrates, as a possible cause of RA.