Headlines: September 2, 2010
by Meg Larkin
First, in legal news, Allergan, Inc., maker of Botox, has agreed to pay $600 million to settle an investigation by the Department of Justice. Allergan will plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misbranding, related to its marketing of Botox for uses that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Botox is generally used for cosmetic purposes, and for medical treatment of a few neuromuscular complaints. According to the Washington Post, “Allergan said it will pay $375 million in connection with the plea, which includes the forfeiture of $25 million in assets. Additionally, the company will pay $225 million in civil fines - $210 million to the federal governments and the rest to several states - related to the investigation, although the company denies liability for the civil claims.” Although Botox was only approved to treat four rare conditions, Allergan deliberately tried to maximize sales for use in unapproved conditions by, among other things, paying kickbacks to medical professionals. Analysts say the settlement may actually help Allegran because it reduces uncertainty among investors and avoids the costs associated with protracted litigation.
In research news, Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard has made a discovery that may indicate a new possibility for Alzheimer’s treatment. Dr. Greengard’s findings illuminate a new potential target for Alzheimer’s drug treatment, which could potentially slow or halt the progress of the disease. While most current trials focus on drugs that disable the enzyme that is believed to create the protein plaque on the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, completely disabling the enzyme has adverse consequences because it performs important health functions. Dr. Greengard’s approach focuses on an activating protein, which tells the enzyme to create the plaque protein, and does not appear to perform any other function. The cancer drug Gleevec blocks the newly found protein, but does not remain in the brain long enough to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s patients. Experts in the field are hopeful that preliminary positive results in rodent trials testing Dr. Greengard’s hypothesis will provide a new way forward in the battle against Alzheimer’s.
In global health news, malaria drugs that are donated as aid to Africa are being stolen and sold on the black market. According to the Boston Globe, “During three periods from 2007 to 2010, American and British specialists bought malaria medicines randomly from private pharmacies in 11 African cities. Of the 894 samples, they found 58, or 6.5 percent, were supposed to have gone to government hospitals and clinics.” Although corruption and theft has long been recognized as a problem, this is the first study to quantify the extent of the issue. It is difficult to determine the scope of the problem because drugs usually aren’t tracked from origin to destination, providing many opportunities for theft or corruption along the way.
Finally, in other global health news, a new kind of vision test that can be administered from a cell phone may help diagnose vision problems in developing countries. Although the device, developed by a team at the MIT Media Lab, won’t remove the need for optometrists, it could help indicate which people should seek medical care and help people with eye problems get the correct prescription from charities that donate glasses. According to the Boston Globe, the technology works as follows; “Instead of staring at an eye chart while different lenses are flipped into place before their eyes, people look through an eyepiece at two lines on the cellphone screen. If the red and green lines are aligned, then their vision is fine. If they are not, they click on the phone’s arrow buttons until the two lines come together. Users repeat the steps with the lines at different angles, and the number of times they need to click reveals how their eyes focus best. The software then translates the results into what corrective lenses they might need.”
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.