Friday, June 26, 2009

A prescription for convenience

From the Globe and Mail:
Shortly after being named Ontario's Minister of Health and Long-term Care last summer, David Caplan was getting a routine eye exam at Toronto's Sunnybrook hospital when his wife, who works there as a nurse, asked him to look at a new drug-dispensing device.

“After my appointment, my wife said, ‘You've got to come check this out,' and she showed me the machine that was in place,” he said. “I thought it was a fantastic idea – it's new technology that a variety of companies could develop and support and it's a really innovative way of improving patient care.”

In a matter of minutes, Mr. Caplan's wife, Leigh, had accomplished what years of lobbying the Ontario government couldn't.

The machine that Mr. Caplan is referring to is the brainchild of an Oakville, Ont.-based startup called PCA Services Inc.

While its executives bristle at this description, their innovation, which they call PharmaTrust, is akin to a high-tech vending machine (more closely resembling an ABM) for pharmaceutical drugs. ...more

Health Canada to crack down on TV ads for vaccines

From the National Post:
Health Canada says it is cracking down on the growing number of TV ads that tout the benefits of vaccines for everything from hepatitis to travellers' diarrhea, yet say little about the products' risks and other shortcomings.

Responding to outside complaints, the department has persuaded some manufacturers to change "unbalanced" commercials, issued letters urging the industry to include both negative and positive information in ads and begun developing new vaccine marketing guidelines.

The action highlights, however, the fact that vaccine advertising falls into a legal grey area with little regulation - in contrast to the tight restrictions placed on consumer ads for prescription drugs.

Health Canada still has no plans to make vaccines subject to similarly stringent rules, but the measures it is taking are welcome and overdue, said the head of a marketing review agency.

"There are gaps in the system and this is one that a truck could drive through," said Ray Chepesiuk, commissioner of the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board. "We consider [vaccines] to be serious medicine that have some risks - safety information the public should be aware of.... You can't say all good things and ignore the bad things." ...more

Firm has high hopes for blockbuster drug

From the St. Catharines (Ont.) Standard:
The clinical setting inside Biolyse Pharma Corp. resembles the space-plague movie The Andromeda Strain.

Except this St. Catharines firm is developing what could be a real miracle drug for a horrible earthly disease.

In lab tests, the as-yet-unamed drug so far seems to kill all cancer cells; if it continues to perform as well in human trials, it could revolutionize cancer treatment, generate billions of dollars for Biolyse and create hundreds of new jobs in St. Catharines.

Biolyse executive vice-president John Fulton is more blunt: “I’ve heard talk in the labs referring to this as the Holy Grail of cancer drugs.” ...more

Shoppers Drug Mart may get lift from prescription legislation

From the Financial Post:
Could changes to the dispensing powers of pharmacists be a boon for Shoppers Drug Mart Ltd.?

Analyst Robert Gibson of Octagon Capital notes pending or already enacted legislation across Canada will lead to changes in pay for pharmacists by their home provinces, although there will not be much clarity on the issue until 2010.

“We believe that the fee the pharmacist will get for extending, adapting, or adjusting a prescription, for example, will be less than what doctors are charging for a similar service,” Mr. Gibson wrote in a note to clients, hiking his target price on the stock to $57 from $49.25. He maintained his "buy" rating on the shares. “Thus, it is in the provincial governments’ interest to proceed.” ...more

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Researchers work to erase women's hormone-replacement fear

From the Ottawa Citizen:
A research team led by Ottawa scientists is creating and testing synthetic hormones to take the fear out of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women.

There's a lot at stake, from the well-being of women to a pharmaceutical market worth billions a year.

"There are plenty of women who would like to have such a drug," said Carleton University Professor Jim Wright, a chemist.

Wright and the research team, led by Tony Durst at the University of Ottawa, have just received a $267,000 research grant from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. It could lead to the creation of a blockbuster new drug.

About a decade ago, hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) was touted as a magic bullet for many menopausal women. HRT boosts hormone levels and helps to reduce the symptoms of menopause, from hot flashes to osteoporosis, the brittle-bone disease that can be deadly because it leads to serious fractures. About one in three women who sustain hip fractures from osteoporosis die within a year. ...more

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pharmacists focus on patients, not pills

From Metro News Ottawa:
Escaping the ashes of a terrible war, Dragana Skokovic-Sunjic came to Canada to start a new life as a pharmacist, helping patients not only receive their medication but understand it as well.

Skokovic-Sunjic, 45, completed a four-year degree in Pharmacy at the University of Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia and her first job was as a teaching assistant in the medical faculty. She left Sarajevo, today’s capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the 1990s to escape the war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia and came to Canada to finally pursue a career as a pharmacist because she found the pharmacists she met inspiring.

“I was always impressed with the professionalism of pharmacists behind the counter, so that’s what inspired me,” she said.

Now a pharmacist at Dell Pharmacy in Beamsville, Ont., Skokovic-Sunjic says coming to Canada to start a new life wasn’t easy but she felt motivated to succeed in a field that she loved.

“Starting with a new country and a new language, it was a very challenging time but the challenge inspired me in a way,” she said. ...more

Victoria senior seeks change to "appalling" drug-dispensing fees

From the Vancouver Sun:
Retiree Jennifer Wheeler was confused by the various prices she paid for prescription drugs. So she decided to do a little investigating.

After contacting 10 pharmacies, Wheeler was astonished to discover the dispensing fee -- money charged for preparing a prescription -- ranged from a low of $7.48 at one major retail outlet to a high of $11.60 at another.

"I was a little appalled," said the 74-year-old Victoria woman. "What I hadn't realized was the cost of buying the drug is different from store to store."

Wheeler had stumbled on to a pricing issue pharmacists are at pains to explain.

The fee covers the cost of the service every pharmacist provides when dispensing medicine. But that service is now expanding, as calls upon the health system increase and the population ages.

The provincial Ministry of Health, for example, recently authorized pharmacists to renew routine prescriptions. Under certain conditions, they can even alter them.

Parkash Ragsdale, deputy chief executive officer with the B.C. Pharmacy Association, said the cost of dispensing a drug properly has been estimated at $13.60. ...more

Choice of eye drug comes with possible conflict for MDs

From the Vancouver Sun:
British Columbia's plan to fund two new drugs gives doctors more choices in treating age-related macular degeneration, but it comes with a potential conflict of interest.

Last week, the government started covering Lucentis and Avastin, two chemically similar drugs that stop the damage done by age-related macular degeneration.

The disease attacks the retina and affects an estimated 3,500 British Columbians annually. It is the leading cause of blindness in people over 50.

Under the government's new plan, retinal specialists will be reimbursed $530 for each treatment of either drug and the associated costs of the drug program, including a $132 injection fee, travel, administration and storage.

While the reimbursement rates for the two drugs are the same, their costs are very different.

Doctors buy Lucentis at a cost of $1,575 per vial, which is split into four treatments. Avastin costs from $300 to $375 per vial and can be split into 20 treatments.

So, doctors purchasing and prescribing Avastin will put out $300 to $375 per vial, but could be paid as much as $10,600. The potential payout is less attractive for Lucentis, with its higher price tag. ...more

Hospital pharmacists overworked, provide little advice: survey

From Taiwan News Online:
Pharmacists working in Taiwan hospitals tend to have too heavy a workload, which leaves them little time to advise patients, according to the results of a survey released Saturday by the Taiwan Healthcare Reform Foundation.

The survey, conducted from Jan. 19-21 at 20 medical centers around Taiwan, found that, on average, the pharmacists served 450 patients per day during the three-day period leading up to the Lunar New Year holiday this year.

The results revealed that more than one quarter of pharmacists are so busy that they cannot provide any verbal information to patients.

Among those who could do so, 80 percent only spoke if the patients asked them questions, with the conversations averaging just 35 seconds, the results showed.

Also, 6.3 percent of pharmacists do not verify the identities of patients before distributing medicines to them, which could increase the chances of mistakes, the poll found.

Meanwhile, approximately 60 percent of the patients surveyed thought that pharmacists should explain to them matters such as possible side effects of the medicines and whether there is likely to be any interaction with other drugs or food. However, only about one quarter of pharmacists offer such information verbally to patients, the survey showed. ...more

Ottawa seizing Mexican cancer drug

From the National Post:
Cancer patients desperate enough to order cheaper, unlicensed versions of the drug thalidomide from Mexico now face another challenge to getting treatment: Federal authorities have reportedly begun seizing supplies of the life-extending medicine at the border.

"Health Canada is stopping every single box of thalidomide," said an official with a Mexican company that makes the pills, who asked not to be named. "Patients are starting to die because of this."

Patient advocates said they had also heard reports that Health Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency have instituted a crackdown on shipments of thalidomide from Mexico and other developing countries.

Health Canada officials would not comment directly on whether they had stepped up seizures, but said their policy has always been to bar unsanctioned imports of such drugs into the country.

The development has nevertheless heightened calls on provincial governments to reimburse the steep costs of the one permitted brand of thalidomide and a similar, newer drug, both of which can add years to the lives of people with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. ...more

Canada backs drug financing mechanism

From the National Post:
Jim Flaherty, the Minister of Finance, helped cut the ribbon on Friday in Italy on a largely unheralded initiative that could represent one of Canada's most significant contributions ever to improving global health.

The $1.5-billion initiative is known as the Advance Market Commitment, or AMC, and Canadian officials as well as those involved in improving global public health say it will save nearly a million lives by 2030 in the world's poorest countries.

"It is novel. This hasn't been done before," Mr. Flaherty said before leaving for Italy and a weekend meeting of G8 finance ministers.

The finance ministers gathered in Lecce to discuss some of the world's most pressing financial problems but Mr. Flaherty, along with the finance ministers from Italy and other countries, held a brief ceremony ahead of those talks to officially launch AMC, a culmination of more than two years of work. ...more

Flu drugs relatively safe for pregnant, breastfeeding women, should be used: study

From the Canadian Press:
The antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza are relatively safe for use in pregnant and breastfeeding women, say the authors of review of data that includes previously unpublished evidence.

The analysis, published electronically on Monday by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggested Tamiflu is the best bet for pregnant women, but either drug can be used safely by breastfeeding women who come down with influenza.

The review may assuage concerns of women who contract swine flu and are worried about whether or not to use antiviral drugs. Pregnant women are at higher risk of complications than their non-pregnant peers when they catch seasonal flu. Evidence from some previous pandemics suggests they can be hit disproportionately hard by a strain of pandemic influenza.

"During the current pandemic, we shouldn't hesitate to treat those patients at increased risk," said senior author Dr. Shinya Ito, head of the division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. ...more

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pfizer oral drug may shake up arthritis market

From Reuters:
An experimental oral drug from Pfizer could shake up the rheumatoid arthritis market, after impressive results were presented at a medical meeting in Denmark this week.

The drug, known only by the code CP-690,550, is likely to prove a cheaper and more convenient alternative to costly anti-TNF biotech treatments, which have led the field in the past decade, medical experts and industry analysts said.

"The next wave of drugs will be oral. I think what companies are trying to develop are oral agents that can be at least as effective or almost as effective as an anti-TNF," said lead investigator Roy Fleischmann of University of Texas, Dallas.

"Having a compound that is more convenient and cheaper, with a similar risk-benefit ratio to a more expensive biologic, is very important, particularly in these tough economic times," he told Reuters in a telephone interview. ...more