A drug used to treat severe osteoporosis promotes healing of hard-to-mend fractures in the elderly and others, reducing pain and time spent in nursing, researchers said Tuesday.
In preliminary studies, 93 percent of 145 patients who had unhealed bone fractures — some for as long as six months — had significant healing after only eight to 12 weeks on the drug, called teriparatide, or Forteo.
An estimated 5 percent of the 6 million fractures suffered by Americans each year are slow to heal or do not heal at all, and as many as a quarter of the elderly with pelvic and hip fractures die within a year as a result of their injuries.
Others with such injuries enter nursing homes never to come out again, so the drug has great promise for reducing medical costs and improving quality of life, said Dr. Susan Bukata of the University of Rochester Medical Center, lead author of the study.
"This is a drug with a good clinical track record that has proved to be remarkably safe, and it could have great utility," said Dr. Richard S. Bockman, chief of the endocrine service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, who was not involved in the study.
Bukata and her colleagues reported their findings at a February meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society.
Teriparatide is a fragment of parathyroid hormone, containing 34 amino acids compared with the 84 in the intact hormone. Studies as early as the 1930s showed that parathyroid hormone injections increase bone density and healing in animals.
Many physicians have observed what they believe to be accelerated healing of fractures in the elderly given Forteo for osteoporosis, and some doctors are now using the drug off-label for such purposes, Bockman said.
Bukata and her colleagues studied 145 mostly elderly patients with fractures at a variety of sites. All the fractures had proved resistant to healing, some for more than six months. The researchers found that 135 of the patients had complete healing of their fractures after eight to 12 weeks. Six had only partial healing, "but they were much more comfortable and happy with the results," she said. Only four patients received no benefit from the drug.
Prostate cancer drug prolongs lives in trial
A prostate cancer drug developed by the Seattle biotechnology company Dendreon prolonged the lives of men in a decisive clinical trial, the company announced Tuesday.
The widely anticipated results could pave the way for the drug, called Provenge, to become the first so-called therapeutic cancer "vaccine" to win approval in the United States after many failures of such drugs.
Therapeutic vaccines like Provenge do not aim to prevent the disease, as a childhood vaccine does. Rather they are meant to train the body's immune system to attack the cancer once the patient is already ill.
"This looks like a proof of concept that cancer vaccines can and do work," said Jeffrey Schlom, an expert on the vaccines at the National Cancer Institute.
Dendreon did not reveal the actual results of its trial, saying they would be presented at a urology meeting on April 28.