Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Provinces angry over drug rules

From the Globe and Mail:
Provinces are lashing back at proposed federal regulations that would extend the patent life of a number of popular medications and postpone the introduction of generic copies, a move that could cost drug plans hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Generic drugs here play an important role in the sustainability of the provincial plan, so delays in accessing those generic drugs will have a direct cost impact on the provincial drug plan and also [on] patients who pay for their own drugs," said Johanne Leblanc, a spokeswoman for the New Brunswick government.

New Brunswick has written to the federal government to express its concerns and to urge further consultation, she said.

The federal government has not released a list of which drugs will be affected. But the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, which represents the country's generic drug manufacturers, has said it could include such popular medications as Viagra, the cholesterol drug Lipitor, the blood-pressure medication Norvasc and the arthritis treatment Celebrex.

New Brunswick's provincial drug program spent almost $14.5-million last year on Lipitor, Norvasc and Celebrex alone, said Ms. Leblanc. ...more

Review suggests asthma drugs safe, effective in COPD

From Reuters:
Previous research has linked a class of asthma drugs known as long-acting beta agonists to increased risk of adverse respiratory-related events or death in patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

However, a report published this month indicates this may not be the case.

The new report suggests that long-acting beta agonists have beneficial effects in patients with moderate-to-severe COPD and do not appear to increase the risk of respiratory deaths. Examples of long-acting beta agonists used to treat asthma and other respiratory conditions include Advair, Serevent, Foradil and Symbicort.

In the study, Dr. Gustavo J. Rodrigo, from Hospital Central de las Fuerzas Armadas, Montevideo, Uruguay and colleagues pooled data from 27 randomized clinical trials that compared two long-acting beta agonists with placebo or with two long-acting "anticholinergic" asthma drugs (for example, Spiriva) in patients with moderate to severe COPD. ...more

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pharmacist helps colleagues expand their patient care; Works wins Tom Smiley national recognition

From the Brantford (Ont.) Expositor:
Tom Smiley has spent 10 years helping pharmacists do more for their patients than count out pills and warn them about side-effects. That work has won Smiley the Pharmacist of the Year award from the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Smiley has worked for Dell Pharmacy in Brantford since 1982. Ten years ago, he formed his own company, Pharmavision Health Consulting, to write continuing education programs for pharmacists. Smiley has also been involved with integrating pharmacists into family health care in Ontario.

"I'm helping to set the road for pharmacists to assist in patient care," he said. ...more

Antipsychotics given for dementia pose risks: study

From Reuters:
Elderly dementia patients prescribed antipsychotic drugs are at three times the risk of a serious health problem or dying within a month of treatment, compared to those not given the drugs, Canadian researchers said on Monday.

The medications have been used by doctors to treat aggression in people who are not psychotic or schizophrenic, but there are risks for elderly dementia patients prescribed the drugs, according to Dr. Paula Rochon of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, and colleagues.

"Of residents newly admitted to a nursing home, 17 percent are started on antipsychotic drugs within 100 days of their admission," often for short periods to control delirium, delusions or aggressive behavior, Rochon wrote. ...more

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Canadian drugstores are losing U.S. sales

From the Newark (NJ) Star Ledger:
Anthony Iwaszko used to fill his prescriptions through mail-order pharmacies in Canada, where he found the prices for his costly hypertension and cholesterol medicines were substantially lower.

Now, the 73-year-old retired Belmar resident purchases all of his medicines in the United States.

"I stopped buying from Canada about two years ago when I was able to get the new Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage," Iwaszko said.

Only a few years ago, there was a mass movement by senior citizens to "remiport" drugs from Canada, where many brand-name medicines cost half of what they sold for at pharmacies in the United States. Canadian pharmacies were frequent advertisers in newspapers and on websites.

Today, more and more seniors like Iwaszko have given up buying their medicine from Canada. By some estimates, the flow of prescription drugs across the border has been cut in half over the past few years.

"The business certainly has decreased," said Gord Haugh, head of the Canadian International Pharmacists Association. "At the height of business about three or four years ago, we were probably approaching about a billion dollars in sales, and I think it is probably down now to between $400 million and $500 million." ...more

Pharmacists call for better salaries

From the (Nairobi, Kenya) Daily Nation:
Government pharmacists want their terms of service reviewed immediately as it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to work under the current scheme.

The scheme was last reviewed 20 years ago, the Kenya Pharmaceutical Association said in Nairobi Saturday.

Through their chairman, Mr John Sabaya, they said a pharmaceutical technologist in the public service earns a Sh15,000 basic salary which, he noted, cannot cater for their needs in the current hard economic times.

“We also want the Government to speedily review our non-practice, strenuous, hardship and risk allowances in line with the inflation rate in the country at the moment,” he said. ...more

Boots accused of selling quack medicines

From the Guardian (UK):
Boots, the high street chemist, is becoming the country's largest seller of quack medicine, according to Britain's leading scientific expert on alternative therapies.

Talking at the Hay literary festival today, Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, is to criticise the company for selling alternative medicines, in particular more than 50 homeopathic remedies, which are shown by clinical trials to be no more effective than sugar pills.

Boots, which has 1,500 stores across the UK, stocks 55 homeopathic therapies, 34 of which are sold under the company's own brand.

Ernst accuses the company of breaching ethical guidelines drawn up by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, by failing to tell customers that its homeopathic medicines contain no active ingredients and are ineffective in clinical trials.

"The population at large trusts Boots more than any other pharmacy, but when you look behind the smokescreen, when it comes to alternative medicines, that trust is not justified. You can buy a lot of rubbish, with covert advertising stating things that are overtly wrong. People are spending their money on stuff that doesn't work," he said. "Boots seems to be fast becoming the biggest seller of quack remedies in UK high streets." ...more

Critics blast new rules for natural remedies

From the Globe and Mail:
'Most of the herbal remedies for sale in Canada may soon be illegal."

"Canadian parents who give their children vitamins could face arrest."

"Federal agents will enter private property and fine mom-and-pop stores $5-million for arbitrary offences."

These are some of the questionable claims being spread online and through e-mail as part of a strident campaign led by the natural-health industry against the federal government's proposed changes to improve the quality and safety of natural health products in Canada.
One website makes the exaggerated claim that Canadians may lose the right to buy natural health products under the new law.

More than 40,000 people have joined several Facebook groups created to oppose amendments to Canada's Food and Drugs Act, known as Bill C-51. Several websites have popped up in recent weeks asking Canadians to sign petitions and call their members of Parliament to protest against the changes, which they say will ban up to 75 per cent of herbs and vitamins in Canada.

But in reality, medical experts say the changes probably won't have a major impact on the way natural health products are marketed and sold in Canada. In fact, they may finally bring accountability to a largely unregulated industry that has typically been able to market products with little proof of their effectiveness and limited safety guarantees, according to Lloyd Oppel, a physician responsible for health promotion at the British Columbia Medical Association. ...more

Price war threatens Dutch pharmacists

From Radio Netherlands Worldwide:
The price of some patent-free medicines is to drop considerably from June, some by as much as 80 to 90 percent. The price cuts come as a result of health insurers' "preference policy", introduced three years ago, whereby they only reimburse drugs at the lowest available price. This has led to a price war among suppliers.

When the cholesterol-reducing drug simvastatin came on sale in 2003, it cost 49 euros a packet. In January 2008 this dropped to 8 euros, and it has now fallen to just 1.25. Other commonly prescribed drugs are now between 74 and 88 percent cheaper.

Pharmaceutical productsVektis, the centre for health insurance information and standardisation, says the price cuts mean a saving of around 350 million euros for health insurers. This could in turn lead to lower premiums.

However, pharmacists throughout the Netherlands are concerned about the price reductions and claim they will lose half a billion euros in sales. The professional association of pharmacists says this will cost the average pharmacist 160,000 euros. The association argues that some of its members will be forced to close and, in the long run, others will not be able to offer the full range of drugs available. Pharmacists used to receive a bonus for dispensing a particular drug, but the insurers' preference policy put an end to the practice. ...more

Smaller sized pharmacies making comeback in industry

From the Shelby (NC) Star:
For some, the hours of waiting and impersonal service often associated with big name pharmacies leads straight to the door of "mom-and-pop" pharmacies.

The small-operation pharmacies that have been making a comeback offer many of the benefits of larger pharmacy with a lot less of the hassle, said Gary Harden.

Harden has spent years behind the counter and behind the scenes at a number of pharmacies. And now, he's back in Shelby - where he started - and his new pharmacy is ready to serve the community he loves.

Shelby Drug Inc., just across from Shelby staple Alston Bridges Barbecue, has been open for little more than a week.

"We started out one or two prescriptions a day," Harden said. "We're up to about 10 now." ...more

Smaller pharmacies more nimble in AIDS prescription market

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
As a growing number of complicated and expensive medications reach patients, they typically make the journey through mail order or a physician's office rather than the local drugstore. Care for one complex illness, however, appears to be resisting this trend.

Small, niche pharmacies providing medications, advice and resources to HIV-positive and AIDS patients combine the knowledge of a specialty mail order pharmacy with the personal attention and convenience of a neighborhood drugstore.

"It's a way to take care of patients in a slightly different environment that's giving more focused care," said Glen Pietradoni, manager of HIV, AIDS and hepatitis programs for Walgreen Co. "The stores are smaller. The staff is more highly educated on the disease." ...more

UK pharmacists' role to expand

From the Irish Medical Times:
UK proposals mean that patients could be treated for minor ailments in their local pharmacies and could even be screened there for sexually-transmitted diseases.

Pharmacists look set to have an increased role in patient care in England, as the UK Government has announced plans to extend the role of pharmacies there in dealing with minor illnesses. It plans to allow pharmacists to prescribe for such conditions, affording the patient more convenience and what might often amount to faster treatment.
Click here

A government White Paper – ‘Building on Strengths, Delivering the Future’ — details how pharmacists will complement the work of GPs in promoting health, preventing sickness and providing care for patients that is “more personal and responsive to individual needs”.

UK Health Minister Ben Bradshaw stressed that the proposals are not about pharmacists taking over the work of GPs: “It’s about complementing them, taking pressure off GPs and enabling them to spend more time with those patients who really need it.” ...more

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Increasing pharmacists' powers raises concerns

From the Globe and Mail:
Getting a prescription refilled or changed in Canada is set to become much easier, but the move to expand the powers of pharmacists is sparking controversy in the country's medical community.

New Brunswick will become one of the first provinces to move forward with legislation to significantly boost the ability of pharmacists to play a greater role in patient prescriptions.

Under proposed changes announced this week, pharmacists would not only provide refills without having to check with the doctor, but could also alter a patient's prescription or assign new medications for minor conditions.

Similar rules are already in place in Alberta and other provinces are in various stages of enhancing the role of pharmacists.

These moves will provide greater convenience to Canadians, who may not have immediate access to a doctor for a new prescription, allow pharmacists to better monitor a patient's response to treatment, and reduce the burden on overworked doctor's offices, said Janet Cooper, senior director of professional affairs at the Canadian Pharmacists Association. ...more

Generic drug prices inflated, committee reports

From the Vancouver Sun:
Inflated prices on generic prescription drugs mean B.C.'s Pharmacare program and drug consumers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars more for medications than they should be each year, says former auditor-general George Morfitt, a member of a committee asked by the provincial government to identify drug funding and approval reforms.

Recommendations of The Report of the Pharmaceutical Task Force were made public Wednesday.

"Canadian prices [on non-brand name, off-patent drugs] are about 40 per cent too high compared [with] other countries," Morfitt said in an interview, referring to the fact that pharmacies receive a 30- to 40-per-cent rebate on bulk purchases of drugs from manufacturers.

However, they don't bother passing on those savings to consumers and Pharmacare.

"Pharmacare is paying artificially high prices," Morfitt said after the

Health Minister George Abbott said the government accepts all the recommendations of the task force and agrees that while British Columbians spend more than $1 billion annually on pharmaceutical products, there are clearly cost savings which have yet to be attained. ...more

Pharmacists to ease strain on health care

From the Fredericton (NB) Daily Gleaner:
It's going to get a lot easier to get your prescription refilled this fall.

A private members bill amending the Pharmacy Act was introduced in the legislature Tuesday.

Starting Oct. 20, pharmacists will be able to refill prescriptions for chronic conditions.

New Brunswick Pharmaceutical Society registrar Bill Veniot said the change will improve access to health care for New Brunswickers.

"We use the example of a patient who has been on blood pressure medication for 10 years (and) he has run out of his medication before he is able to see his doctor," said Veniot. ...more

Concerns raised about proposed bill

From the Toronto Star:
Every week, Daniel Chiang, a nutritionist and clinic owner at the Inspired Life Health Centre on Danforth Ave., treats more than a dozen patients, offering them "alternative medicine options" to help heal ailments ranging from the flu to digestive problems.

Sometimes, he suggests home remedies; other times it may be a nutritional supplement. He has always been able to recommend or suggest as he chooses. But now he worries this could change with Bill C-51, legislation – making its way through Parliament – that will modernize the Food and Drugs Act for the first time in over 50 years.

"There is a lot of uncertainty around the bill and how it will impact access to natural health products. No one seems to be quite sure," Chiang said. The confusion has generated controversy. Earlier this month, hundreds of people turned up at rallies across the country to protest the bill. ...more

Prostate prevention drug seen in positive new light

From CBC News:
A drug that helps prevent prostate cancer but was once seen as risky is now being painted in a new light.

Finasteride, which belongs to a class of drugs called 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, decreases the body's production of androgen testosterone, a male hormone that causes the prostate to enlarge. In a 2003 study of 18,822 men, it was found to reduce a man's chance of getting prostate cancer by 25 per cent.

However, initially, there were concerns that when men taking the drug developed prostate cancer, the tumours were more advanced than in men with the disease who were not on the drug.

That thinking has changed following a comprehesive re-evaluation of the study. Two studies released last week that will be published in the June issue of Cancer Prevention Research shed new light on finasteride.

"We found that the drug actually worked to reduce the incidence of prostate cancer and more importantly, did not increase the incidence of high-grade cancer," Dr. Steven Kaplan, associate professor of urology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told CBC News. ...more

Faster, cheaper, better: B.C. health minister promises pharmaceutical overhaul

From the Vancouver Sun:
The provincial government is promising faster drug-approval times and better access to cheaper generic drugs at the pharmacy counter once the recommendations of the Pharmaceutical task force become reality.

Health Minister George Abbott said British Columbians spend, on average, about $1 billion annually on pharmaceuticals.

"Are we getting the best deal? I think not. I think that it's pretty clear particularly in the area of the generics, that we are not getting a good deal," he said in an interview.

Abbott made the comments following an announcement Wednesday that the government would be accepting all the recommendations put forward by the Pharmaceutical task force. ...more

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pharmacists soon to prescribe drugs

I find it interesting that the New Brunswick Medical Society is in favour of pharmacist prescribing, while in Alberta the Alberta Medical Association is mostly against the concept. However, it doesn't sound that the N.B. plan is quite as far-reaching as the initial prescribing program that has started in Alberta.

From the Moncton (NB) Times & Transcript:
New Brunswick pharmacists are prescribing their own medicine to help solve the province's overburdened health-care system.

The New Brunswick Pharmaceutical Society has drafted a private members' bill, which will give pharmacists the power to renew, extend, or alter prescriptions and diagnose "minor" and "chronic" conditions and ailments.

The Liberal government tabled the bill and supported it yesterday in the legislature.

Bill Veniot, registrar of the New Brunswick Pharmaceutical Society, called the legislation a step forward for health care in the province, but said pharmacists would not be taking on the work of doctors.

"This is about greater access to pharmacists, greater access to necessary services. It is about the pharmacist being able to work for their full scope of practice."

Health Minister Mike Murphy has echoed the message of pharmacists, who believe they can help cut down on lineups at hospitals and make medications more accessible to New Brunswickers.

"People going to the hospital to get renewals on prescriptions, that won't be happening anymore. We won't be clogging up the waiting areas for that," says Dennis Abud, president of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association. ...more

EA awash in bogus malaria medicine, says study

From the (Nairobi, Kenya) East African:
Roughly one-third of the malaria drugs sold at chemists in East Africa’s capital cities are ineffective, a new study has foundTests on a total of 195 packs of malaria medicines bought in Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Kigali, Nairobi and two West African cities showed that 35 per cent either lacked sufficient amounts of active ingredients or did not dissolve quickly enough to work.

The incidence of ineffective drugs was highest in Kenya, with 38 per cent of the 42 packets purchased in Nairobi found to be sub-standard.

Tanzania’s rate was lowest, at 32 per cent, followed by Rwanda, a 33 per cent and Uganda, at 35 per cent.The malaria drugs most likely to fail quality tests were those manufactured in Africa, researchers said.

Nearly half of those medicines were found to be deficient, compared with 24 per cent of drugs of European origin.

The comparative weakness of regulatory systems in Africa may account for the difference, researchers suggest.They also report that 33 per cent of the tested packets contained only artemisinin, an anti-malarial agent produced in China and regarded as an especially promising treatment. ...more

Flu bugs growing resistance to drugs, studies find

From Reuters:
Seasonal flu viruses are developing the ability to evade influenza drugs globally, but how and why this is happening is not clear, experts told a conference on Monday.

Europe is the worst-affected by strains of influenza that resist the effects of antiviral drugs, but the resistance is growing globally, they told a meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

"A significant proportion of resistant viruses were observed in Europe this winter," Dr. Bruno Lina of Claude Bernard University in Lyons, France, told the meeting.

The resistance also varies by strain, with a quarter of H1N1 flu viruses resistant in Europe and about 11 percent of H1N1 in the United States, but far fewer cases of H3N2 and influenza B viruses. ...more

Natural health care industry rebuked over claims about new bill

From the Calgary Herald:
Health Minister Tony Clement says the natural health products industry is scaring consumers unnecessarily with claims that the government plans to outlaw popular homeopathic medicines and herbal remedies.

"They are scaring people and it's not borne out by the intent of the legislation or the wording of the legislation," Clement said Monday in an interview about proposed amendments to the Food and Drugs Act, currently being debated in Parliament.

The Natural Health Products Protection Association has launched a campaign arguing licensing requirements are already overly stringent and coming changes will mean up to three-quarters of all natural health products on the market will become illegal.

The association, which represents manufacturers, says the proposed legislation "reads like a police-state manual" and the "real danger in regulating them is to 'over-regulate' them off of the market." ...more

New Brunswick pharmacists to prescribe drugs under new legislation

From the Canadian Press:
Pharmacists in New Brunswick will soon be able to prescribe certain drugs as a result of a bill tabled in the legislature Tuesday.

The bill, which was introduced on behalf of the New Brunswick Pharmaceutical Society, was promised earlier this year in the provincial health plan. "This enhanced role for pharmacists is in keeping with our commitment to give patients better access to health care by enhancing the role of health-care providers," said Health Minister Mike Murphy.

Murphy said people who have an established diagnosis from their doctor for conditions such as allergies, asthma, diabetes or high cholesterol can consider seeing their pharmacist for a prescription.

An example could be someone who has been on blood pressure medication for 10 years but has run out of medication and was unable to see their doctor for a couple of weeks. A pharmacist would be able to provide that patient with medication to allow time for a followup with their doctor. ...more

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Heart drug's higher death risk detailed in study

From the Toronto Star:
A massive Canadian study that caused a popular heart surgery drug to be pulled from the shelves last November has shown it increased the risk of death by 50 per cent over two rival medications.

Pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG voluntarily removed the anti-bleeding drug aprotinin, the generic name for Trasylol, from circulation when early results from the University of Ottawa-led study began to reveal its relative risks.

"The ... study will change the way heart surgery is done around the world," said Dr. David Mazer, an anesthesiologist at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital and a co-author of the paper, the final draft of which was published online yesterday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

"As a result of the ... research, patients and their doctors can have that much more confidence going forward," Mazer told a media briefing in Ottawa this week.

"It was a bit of a surprise in seeing this," said Dr. Paul Hebert, a critical care physician at the Ottawa Hospital and a principal study investigator.

"We've ... shown, we think reasonably definitively, that (aprotinin) increases the risk of death as compared to two alternatives." ..more

Morning-after pill now on store shelves

From the Guelph (Ont.) Mercury:
Local pharmacist Vivian Guergues isn't pleased she may no longer be able to offer guidance to women seeking Plan B, known as the morning-after birth control pill.

The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities yesterday reclassified the drug levonorgestrel so it can be sold on pharmacy shelves, rather than behind the counter. Women previously had to ask for the drug and speak to a pharmacist.

Guergues, who works at Guelph Medical Place Pharmacy, said she preferred to supervise purchases of the drug, marketed as Plan B, to ensure women got any pharmacy assistance they needed.

"It would be better for the patient," Guergues said.

A woman coming in off the street may not always need the contraceptive and might be confused about its use, Guergues added.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association is opposed to the change in status of the drug to Schedule 3 -- which means it's readily available on shelves -- from Schedule 2, where behind-the-counter sale required consultation with a pharmacist. ...more

Quebecers denied easy access to morning-after pill

From the Montreal Gazette:
The emergency contraceptive pill Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, was approved yesterday as an over-the-counter drug across the country - except in Quebec.

While other Canadian girls and women - there is no minimum age requirement - will be able to purchase Plan B like they would Tylenol or vitamins, Quebecers will still have to consult a pharmacist and reveal some very personal information about their sexual activity.

Quebec pharmacists are not part of the national pharmacists' group that made yesterday's decision. They support Quebec's current behind-the-counter restrictions.

"It's not just another drug," Manon Lambert, a pharmacist who is registrar of the Quebec Order of Pharmacists, said. ...more

Emergency contraceptive to stay behind counter in Quebec

From CBC News:
Canadian women might soon be able to buy the emergency contraceptive drug known as Plan B straight off the drugstore shelf rather than having to ask for it at the pharmacy counter — everywhere except in Quebec.

The drug, commonly sold under the brand name Plan B, is expected to soon be as easy to access as Aspirin or nutritional supplements after the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) accepted a recommendation this week to change how the contraceptive is sold.

The proposal must still be approved by the pharmacy regulatory authorities of each province and territory, but if adopted, it will make the drug available off the shelf instead of behind the pharmacy counter.

In Quebec, however, the recommendation will not be considered at all since the province is not a member of NAPRA. ...more

Ruling grants easy access to morning-after pill

From the Edmonton Journal:
The emergency contraceptive pill Plan B will now be sold on the front shelves of Canadian pharmacies without any medical consultation after a landmark decision came down Thursday to make the drug more accessible.

In its final ruling, the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) has given Plan B, or Levonorgestrel, full over-the-counter status.

This new status will make Canada the fifth country worldwide that allows women to go into any pharmacy and purchase the single-dose pill without speaking to a pharmacist first. Plan B is already available without a prescription and a medical consultation in Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and India. ...more

Provincial funding of cancer drug Avastin is unlikely

From the Fredericton (NB) Daily Gleaner:
Officials from New Brunswick's Department of Health say they're not ready to change their minds about adding cancer drug Avastin to the provincial medical formulary.

Avastin is mainly prescribed for colorectal cancer patients and the manufacturers of the medication say a dozen treatments given over a six-month period cost about $21,000.

After Nova Scotia recently became the fifth province in Canada to fund the costly cancer treatment, advocate Carrol Stewart thought New Brunswick might revisit its decision.

Stewart said she has collected almost 4,000 signatures of people who believe the province should add the drug to the provincial formulary.

She said she recently submitted the list of signatures to Health Minister Mike Murphy's office and sent copies to Premier Shawn Graham and several MLAs and MPs. ...more

GlaxoSmithKline approved to sell bird flu vaccine in Europe

From CBC News:
British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline says it has received regulatory approval to sell its H5N1 bird flu vaccine to European countries.

The pre-pandemic H5N1 vaccine, to be sold under the name Prepandrix, will be marketed to countries seeking to stockpile the vaccine in the event of a human bird flu pandemic.

"This vaccine marks a significant step in the world's ability to cope with an influenza pandemic," GSK chief Jean-Pierre Garnier said in a release Monday.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu mainly affects birds, although the World Health Organization has reported 382 human cases of H5N1 infection from 14 countries resulting in 241 deaths, according to GSK's release. Scientists are watching for signs it has mutated into a form that transmits easily between humans, which could lead to a global pandemic.

Governments in Switzerland and Finland have both signed contracts for vaccine to stockpile, while the Untied States has said it plans to hoard enough of the drug to protect 20 million people. Canada has chosen not to stockpile immunizations, although its current contract with GSK gives it first access to any vaccine manufactured at the company's facility in Ste-Foy, Que., if a pandemic strikes. ...more

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Drug spending rose to $27b last year on backs of new market entries

From the Canadian Press:
Spending on prescribed and over-the-counter drugs in Canada outpaced overall health spending last year, and grew faster than the rate of inflation, new figures show.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information reported Thursday that drug spending reached an estimated $27 billion in 2007. That's up 7.2 per cent from the $25 billion spent the previous year.

In comparison, total health spending last year rose 6.6 per cent, to $160 billion from $150 billion in 2006. Inflation hovered around two per cent.

The institute cites increased volume of drug use and the entry of new drugs into the market, which are typically introduced at higher prices, as reasons for the soaring drug costs.

However, the rate of growth for drug spending has slowed from an average annual rate of 9.5 per cent between 1985 and 2005. ...more

Vitamin D levels linked to breast-cancer prognosis

From CTV News:
Women who are vitamin D deficient when they are diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to have their disease spread and are more likely to die than women who have adequate vitamin D levels, new Canadian research says.

The study found that women who were vitamin D deficient were 94 per cent more likely to have their cancer metastasize (spread) and 73 per cent more likely to die.

The research was led by Dr. Pamela Goodwin, a breast cancer researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. The study analyzed blood samples and disease outcome from more than 500 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1989 and 1995. Women were followed up for an average of 11 years. ...more

HIV drug linked to serious liver side-effects, Health Canada warns

From the Canadian Press:
Health Canada and pharmaceutical company Janssen-Ortho are warning people taking the HIV drug Prezista that the drug can cause serious liver side-effects.

Prezista, which is used in combination with another antiretroviral medication known as ritonavir, is used to treat adult patients in whom other HIV therapy has failed.

The warning says that in clinical trials, 0.5 per cent of people who took the drug developed hepatitis or inflammation of the liver.

And since the drug has been brought to market, there have been 13 reports of patients who developed hepatitis, including two who died.

The warnings says that between mid-2006 and the end of 2007 there were also 25 reports of patients who developed other liver problems; 14 of those patients died. ...more

Canada lags on labelling drugs to warn of C. difficile

From the Hamilton Spectator:
Health Canada has not followed the lead of the U.S. by updating its warnings on certain drugs that increase the risk of contracting C. difficile.

This despite the critical connection between C. difficile and antibiotics.

American drug regulators updated a number of warnings as a result of reports from some Canadian and U.S. cities that specific strains of C. difficile were causing more severe disease than had been seen previously, said a spokesperson with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA started seeing post-marketing reports of C. difficile-associated diarrhea with deaths or other serious consequences, such as colectomy, the surgical removal of part of the colon.

The use of antibiotics is a major issue with C. diff because patients who have been treated with specific antibiotics are at greatest risk of contracting the disease. ...more

Friday, May 16, 2008

Association of Prezista (darunavir) with hepatotoxicity

From Health Canada:
Tibotec, a division of Janssen-Ortho Inc. ("Tibotec"), in cooperation with Health Canada, would like to inform you of important new safety information regarding hepatotoxicity in association with the use of PREZISTA (darunavir). PREZISTA, co-administered with ritonavir (rtv) and other antiretroviral agents, is indicated for treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in adult patients who have failed prior antiretroviral therapy.
For the public
For health professionals

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Group calls for national policy to cover drugs for rare diseases

From CBC News:
A group that represents Canadians with rare disorders is calling for a national policy to help pay for their astronomical medical costs.

The call comes after the Alberta government decided to pay for a drug for a 17-year-old boy stricken with Pompe disease, a rare and potentially fatal disease caused by an enzyme deficiency that disables muscles.

Trevor Pare of Innisfail has been a participant in a clinical trial that paid for the drug Myozyme. The trial is over at the end of May and the Alberta government has decided to take over the annual cost, which is more than $500,000.

"It's just like unbelievable, unbelievable," Linda Pare, Trevor's mother, told CBC News. She said without the drug, her son would die in six months.

The Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders is pleased Trevor will continue to get his special drug.

But Durhane Wong-Rieger, president of the organization, said it is time for a national policy on funding of drugs used to treat rare diseases. ...more

Beta blockers may cause post-surgery stroke, death

From CTV News:
A common medication given to patients to prevent heart complications during and after surgery may in fact increase the risk of stroke and even death, a new Canadian study says.

The research showed that beta blockers, which help reduce the effects of stress hormones on the heart during and after surgery, reduced the risk of heart attack but increased the risk of stroke and death.

Out of the 4,174 patients who received the beta blocker metoprolol succinate prior to and for 30 days after surgery, only 176 suffered a heart attack, compared to 239 among the 4,177 patients who received a placebo.

However, patients who received the beta blocker were 33 per cent more likely to die than patients in the placebo group. As well, patients on metoprolol were twice as likely than placebo patients to suffer a stroke. ...more

Medical subsidies wrongly given to non-residents

From Consumer.org.nz:
Taxpayers are unknowingly subsidising pharmacy prescriptions for tourists and international students possibly to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Consumer NZ has found.

Chief executive, Sue Chetwin, says many people in New Zealand on visitors or students permits are getting subsidised pharmacy medicines they're not entitled to. And the sums involved could be substantial. Last year, 173, 675 visitors' permits and 96, 473 student permits were issued.

Ms Chetwin says the problem stems from software designed by Medtech Global, which the company claims is used in 75 percent of primary practices.

General practitioners use Medtech's software to generate prescriptions for patients. But the software cannot identify non-residents who are not entitled to subsidised pharmacy medicines. It currently codes these patients as being eligible for subsidies.

The software fault means pharmacists filling prescriptions for visitors and students are charging them a subsidised rate. Pharmacists then claim the subsidy from the Ministry of Health. The problem also extends to lab tests. ...more

Drug combo prevents NSAID-related GI disturbance

From Reuters:
Although all of the common strategies protect the upper gastrointestinal tract from the complications of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), popular over-the-counter analgesics such as Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen), the combination of a COX-2 inhibitor and a proton pump inhibitor is associated with the largest reduction in gastrointestinal complications, according to a Canadian study published in the medical journal Gastroenterology.

COX-2 inhibitors treat pain and inflammation by selectively blocking the COX-2 enzyme, which prevents the production of chemical messengers that cause pain and swelling. They include drugs such as Celebrex (celecoxib). Two other COX-2 inhibitors (Vioxx and Bextra) were taken off the market in the U.S. because of safety concerns. ...more

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Drop patent regulations, generic drug makers urge

From the Globe and Mail:
Canada's generic drug companies are urging Parliament to abandon proposed regulations that would delay their ability to reproduce some of the most popular name-brand drugs that are currently on the market, including Viagra and Lipitor.

Jim Keon, the president of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, said his organization is considering taking the government to court to reverse the regulations that he says will cost Canadians hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

The changes to Canada's drug patent regime appeared in the Canada Gazette, the formal record of government notices, two weeks ago.

Under the new rules, patents that have been removed from drugs that were on the market prior to June 17, 2006, could be reinstated. ...more

Viagra may help heart in muscular dystrophy: study

From Reuters:
A Canadian study involving mice shows that anti-impotence pills might protect the hearts of people with a common form of muscular dystrophy, researchers said on Monday.

Canadian researchers gave sildenafil, the active ingredient in drug maker Pfizer Inc's Viagra, to mice with an animal version of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and found that it improved their heart performance.

They said it would be premature to give Viagra to people with the disease, but said the results indicate the drug potentially could be used to prevent or delay heart failure in children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. ...more

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Natural health products facing tighter regulation

From CTV News:
People who fear that proposed changes to the Food and Drugs Act will lead to tighter restrictions on natural health products will gather for a protest at Queen's Park in Toronto this weekend.

Saturday's demonstration will follow rallies held on Thursday and Friday in other cities across the country.

Opposition to Bill C-51, which proposes changes to language within the Act, is mainly coming from those who fear it will make it harder for consumers to purchase natural health products.

The bill was put before Parliament on April 8, and is an attempt by the government to update regulations for food, drugs and cosmetics and includes "medical devices, drugs, cells, tissues, organs, vaccines and veterinary drugs, as well as natural health products," Health Canada spokesperson Paul Duchesne told CTV.ca. ...more

Asthma drugs help to prevent birth defects

From the Globe and Mail:
Women who have an asthma attack during the first three months of pregnancy put their babies at a greater risk of birth defects than asthmatic mothers who did not have a flare-up during that period, a new Canadian study shows.

The research, published in next month's issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that women who had uncontrolled asthma during this crucial period in fetal development were 48 per cent more likely to have a baby with at least one birth defect compared with those who were taking their medication.

"I hope it will encourage women to continue their treatment during pregnancy. This gives some evidence that stopping your treatment and then being more at risk of having an asthma attack puts your baby at risk of having a congenital malformation," Lucie Blais, an associate professor in pharmacy at the University of Montreal and lead author of the study, said in an interview yesterday. ...more

Canadian AIDS meds may soon head to Rwanda

From CBC News:
Four years after it was passed unanimously by Parliament, a bill drafted to allow low-cost Canadian-made AIDS drugs to be exported to developing countries may finally be on the verge of producing results.

Generic drug maker Apotex Inc. announced Wednesday that it has been awarded a contract by the government of Rwanda to sell its three-in-one AIDS pill Apo Triavir to the African country. Securing that contract was the final legal hurdle that Apotex had to manoeuvre in the onerous process of making Canada's Access to Medicines Regime work.

"We're almost there," Elie Betito, the company's director of public and government affairs, said in an interview.

"By October sometime we're hoping that the product will be on a plane on delivery to Rwanda."

He noted, though, that nothing will be final until that actually happens. The companies that hold the patents on the drugs in the Apotex combined medication can still withdraw permission for the sale to take place "even on the day we are shipping." ...more

Morning-after pills trial in second year

From the Waikaton (NZ) Times:
The morning-after pill has been free to Waikato women for the past year and the pharmacy trial was so successful it has been extended for another year.

This week, Auckland District Health Board decided to support a scheme allowing pharmacists to provide the emergency contraceptive pill to young women free, but it's not a New Zealand first.

In the Waikato, a pilot project allowing 3000 pharmacy consultations to supply the pill free to women under 25, was funded by Waikato District Health Board from April last year. The budget for the scheme was $90,000.

Waikato Community Pharmacy Group chief executive Cath Knapton said the scheme was not advertised but, through word-of-mouth, the number of morning-after pills being given out by Waikato pharmacists had increased dramatically in the past 12 months. ...more

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Generics slam proposed drug patent rules

From the National Post:
New patent rules just proposed by the federal government would delay generic versions of Lipitor, Viagra and several other blockbuster drugs by as much as two years, costing consumers and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually, generic companies are warning.

The government says the regulations would simply restore fairness and stability to the brand-name industry after two court rulings put unexpected new curbs on the practice of "evergreening" -- filing new patents on a drug in an attempt to stave off generic competition.

Generic firms, which stand to lose business as a result of the suggested amendments, call the move an unjustified sop to the brand-name manufacturer. ...more

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Canadian company pushing pill dispensing kiosk

From IT Business:
A Canadian firm says it can help the healthcare industry cut down prescription errors and improve patient-pharmacist contact by installing automated pill dispensing kiosks at doctors' offices, clinics, drugs stores and hospitals.

PharmaTrust, a sleek green and white box similar to an automated teller machine (ATM), can read doctor's prescription scripts, dispense 150 commonly prescribed drugs, collect and manage patient records and set up a remote live video conference with a pharmacist.

The machine, developed by PCA Services Inc., of Oakville, Ont., will soon be tested by the Sunnybrook Health Services Centre in its hospital pharmacy in Toronto. ...more

Addicts turning to pain patches

From the National Post:
Despite triggering a growing list of overdose deaths, powerful pain-control patches have become a rare but highly sought-after narcotic on some Canadian streets, a new study indicates.

Resourceful addicts have even devised ingenious ways to defeat safety features added recently to the Fentanyl patches, researchers discovered.

"This is bad news in many ways and ... I don't think anybody has a clear idea what to do about it," said Dr. Benedikt Fischer of the B.C. Centre for Addictions Research, one of the authors of the study. "This is a killer drug out there, in many ways."

Known by the brand-name Duragesic, the patches are prescribed primarily for treating chronic pain of cancer patients and others. More than 600,000 prescriptions were sold in Canada last year, according to IMS Health. ...more

Hepatitis C a 'giant' that sleeps no longer

From the National Post:
The "sleeping giant" of hepatitis C in Canada has clearly awoken, concludes a new Alberta study that found the incidence of severe illness triggered by the liver virus -- and the resulting burden on the health care system -- has grown explosively.

The number of hospitalizations for serious complications of the virus, the number of deaths while in hospital and the lengths of hospital stays jumped 400% between 1994 and 2004, the Calgary-area research found.

The results outstripped earlier projections that foresaw caseloads doubling over a similar time span.

One expert says the dramatic findings should be a wake-up call for governments that spent more than $2-billion compensating the small percentage of patients who got hep C from tainted blood but have largely neglected actual medical treatment. ...more

Free morning-after pill to go on trial

From the New Zealand Herald:
Auckland women are only a few months away from being able to go to their pharmacist and get free, unlimited access to the morning-after pill.

The Auckland District Health Board decided at a board meeting yesterday to support the scheme, detailed in the Herald on Tuesday.

Any woman, of any age, will be able to make use of the $300,000 scheme during its trial period.

The pills will be available to whoever has a need, and will not be restricted to limited numbers for each woman.

Women will be asked to provide some personal details when they receive the free pill from their pharmacist. Those details will be used to determine the success of the pilot scheme, and will not be placed on medical records. ...more

Pharmacist whacks robber with bat

From the Madison (WI) Capital Times:
A bat-wielding robber had his weapon used against himself when a Walgreens pharmacist took the bat away from the suspect and threw it at the robber, whacking him in the back while the suspect fled out of the store.

Eric Harried, 36, Madison, was arrested and tentatively charged with attempted armed robbery, battery while armed, disorderly conduct and a parole hold, following the holdup attempt Saturday afternoon.

According to Madison police, Harried tried to rob the Walgreens pharmacy at 4518 Cottage Grove Road shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday. ...more

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pharmacy open new compound centre

From the Belleville (Ont.) Intelligencer:
A Belleville pharmacy is "stepping back to the future" by opening a compound centre to produce its own medications that better suit their customers' individualized prescription needs.

Kelly's Guardian Pharmacy is the only pharmacy between Port Hope and Kingston to operate its own compound centre and pharmacy manager Tom Bond said there's been a need for it.

"It's an important addition to our pharmacy because pharmaceutical companies are not always catering to the individual needs of patients," he said. "They mass produce medication in certain dosage forms and strengths, but we're now able to produce our own medication in all different forms from raw materials."

Compounding, he explained, allows doctors to prescribe and the pharmacist to prepare a customized medication that is not available commercially, or to replace an available medication in a different dosage to meet specific patient needs.

For example, a compounding pharmacist can prepare liquid medication for patients who have difficulty swallowing a tablet. He can flavour medication for children or prepare a dye-free or preservative-free dosage form. The pharmacist can adjust the strength of a medication and formulate it in a form that is easier for the patient to take. ...more

Wyeth and Amgen bolster fatal infection warning on skin drug

From CNN:
Drugmakers Wyeth and Amgen Inc. have bolstered warnings about tuberculosis and other life-threatening infections on the label of their skin-disorder drug Enbrel.

The new boxed warning, the most serious a drug can carry, indicates patients taking the drug have contracted infections that led to hospitalization and death. The same language previously appeared in bolded text, which is considered a less serious warning.

Infections included tuberculosis, a disease which attacks the lungs, as well as bacterial sepsis, which can cause severe fever and inflammation. ...more

Pay more for new asthma drugs

From the Economic Times (India):
In an attempt to thwart price control, drug majors have withdrawn or reduced supplies of popular asthma drug Theophylline. Instead, companies like Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy’s, Cipla and Zydus Cadila have launched several new brands based on a Theophylline-derivative called Doxophylline, which is outside price control. The new brands allegedly have less efficacy, but are priced higher.

In the past year or so, companies such as Dr Reddy’s (Doxobid), Ranbaxy (Synasma), Zydus Cadila (Doxolin) and Macleods (Doxoril) launched anti-asthma drugs based on Doxophylline, which are outside price control. Over two million asthma patients in India are being made to be pay much higher price. While the cost of 10 tablets of Theophylline 400 mg is Rs 6.40, 10 tablets of Doxophylline of some brands cost as high as Rs 80. ...more

Friday, May 02, 2008

Pharmacists withdraw threat to boycott drugs schemes

From the Belfast (Ireland) Telegraph:
Pharmacists have withdrawn their threat to boycott community drugs schemes following a breakthrough in talks with the HSE yesterday.

Around 800 pharmacies were threatening to stop dispensing medicine under various schemes due to a row over the payments they receive from the HSE for wholesale medicines.

The HSE has unilaterally reduced the price in an effort to save money and the two sides are still in dispute over the matter. ...more

Shoppers Drug Mart seen as defensive buy

From the Financial Post:
Continued growth at Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. in the first quarter with no discernible impact from an economic slowdown has analysts pegging the drug retailer as a good defensive buy.

"If anything, they are seeing increased market share" in the face of a dwindling economy, said analyst Robert Gibson of Octagon Capital in a note to clients, raising his per share earnings estimates in fiscal 2009 to $2.72 from $2.67 and target price to $51.90. He maintained his hold recommendation.

Vishal Shreedhar at UBS Investment Research noted Shoppers "continues to perform in a moderating consumer environment" in a note to clients.

"We view Shoppers as a high-quality company with a defensive earnings stream. Margins continue to benefit from improved mix, increased private label, global sourcing, purchasing power and maturing real estate." ...more