Headlines: November 21, 2011
by Kyle Thomson
On Friday, the FDA announced it was revoking approval for the cancer drug Avastin for treatment of breast cancer. The FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, said that clinical trials show the drug was not helping breast cancer patients live longer, nor was it meaningfully controlling their tumors. Combined with the lack of efficacy were concerns with exposing breast cancer patients to serious side-effects, including severe high blood pressure, hemorrhaging and heart failure. The ruling comes after a long, emotional, debate between investigators who have maintained that efficacy has not been demonstrated in trials and breast cancer patients who claim the treatment has helped them. Avastin will remain licensed for treatment of colon cancer and other tumors.
The government’s requirement that all insurance plans must cover contraceptives for women free of charge has come under fire recently by a number of groups, including religious organizations, charities and schools who are asking for a broad exemption to the requirement for religious or moral reasons. While churches may already qualify for an exemption, the proposal currently under consideration by the White House would expand the exemption to many universities, hospitals, clinics and other entities that are associated with religious organizations. Critics argue that this would dramatically undermine the import of the requirement, which was issued in August by Katherine Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, after a panel of the National Academy of Sciences recommended the measure.
A report by the U.N. shows that the AIDS epidemic is leveling off, with new incidences of HIV, the underlying virus that causes AIDS, remaining unchanged since 2007. Figures show that 34 million people have HIV, a new high, but the figure continues to grow because more individuals are surviving longer with the disease without acquiring AIDS. Instead, deaths from AIDS are down 21% compared to their peak in 2005. While the results are promising, the U.N. maintains there is still much work to be done to meet its ambitious plan to eliminate HIV infections.