PHARMACY

Epilepsy drug holds promise as potential treatment for alcoholism

BY Allison Cerra

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. A drug used to treat epileptic seizures may be prescribed to help alcoholics control their addiction, a new study suggests.

A drug used to treat epileptic seizures may be prescribed to help alcoholics control their addiction, a new study suggests.

The drug topiramate proved evidently better than a placebo at helping alcoholics stay away from heavy drinking, the study authors said. “Not only is there an effective new treatment, but there’s a medication that you can take at the time of crisis. You can start immediately when you need help,” said study author Bankole Johnson, chairman of the University of Virginia’s Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences.

For many alcoholics, the main source of treatment is their own resolve and utilizing the “Twelve Steps” developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Only a small percentage of people battling alcoholism help their addiction by taking prescription medication.

In the study, conducted between 2004 and 2006, Johnson and his colleagues recruited 371 alcoholics between the ages of 18 and 65. The subjects, both male and female, received daily doses of topiramate—up to 300 milligrams—or a placebo along with a brief weekly visit with a counselor.

Both treatments seemed to help patients. Over 14 weeks, the percentage of heavy-drinking days per week dropped from 81.9 percent to 43.8 percent among those who took topiramate and from 82 percent to 51.8 percent among those who took a placebo. While the results are very close in numbers, it is apparent that alcoholics hinder their drinking if they have a distraction.

Topiramate also led to a higher rate of achieving 28 or more days of continuous non-heavy drinking and 28 or more days of continuous abstinence, the researchers said. The drug appears to work by cutting the craving for alcohol, according to Johnson.

The findings are published in the Oct. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

There are side effects with topiramate, Johnson said. The drug “can make you dizzy, give you headaches and the feeling of pins and needles in your fingers. Some people have difficulty naming words, which goes away after about a week.”

According to Johnson, the drug can set people back about $1,000 for three months. And patients don’t see benefits for two to four weeks, but topiramate holds promise, he said. “We’re talking about a drug that will be many times better than what is currently available,” he said. “And it doesn’t require you to go to rehab.”

The next step, Johnson said, is to study whether people can safely take topiramate for long periods of time.

Ortho-McNeil Janssen makes topiramate and funded the study.

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Synta and GSK enter into $1.1 billion deal

BY Drew Buono

LONDON and LEXINGTON, Mass. Synta Pharmaceuticals and GlaxoSmithKline have agreed on a collaboration for the joint development and commercialization of STA-4783, a new drug entering phase-three clinical development for the treatment of metastatic melanoma.

Under the terms of the agreement, the companies will share responsibility for the development and commercialization of the drug in the United States, with GlaxoSmithKline having exclusive rights outside of the United States.  Synta can earn up to $1.1 billion as a result of this agreement in development, upfront payments, stock purchases and milestone payments.

“This agreement confirms GSK’s growing status as a world leader in the development of new oncology medicines for use in the treatment, prevention and supportive care of cancer patients.  It further strengthens our late stage oncology pipeline, which currently includes ten phase-three programs, and also demonstrates our commitment to identifying compounds that have the potential to deliver real benefit to patients,” said Moncef Slaoui, chairman of research and development at GSK.  “The data we have seen from the phase-two trials conducted by Synta have given us confidence in the potential of STA-4783 as a novel means of treating metastatic melanoma, a disease for which there is high unmet medical need.”

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CMS updates Medicare Part D Web site

BY Drew Buono

WASHINGTON The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has updated its Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder, so that senior citizens and other beneficiaries can begin to review 2008 Part D drug plans.

The finder offers beneficiaries a chance to compare drug plans and health plans, view premiums, formularies and availability of coverage in the gap.  CMS wanted to make the finder as easy as possible to use and provide as much information as possible so that beneficiaries are ready before the open enrollment begins on Nov. 15.

The finder is at www.medicare.gov.

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