Saturday, April 30, 2011

New safety laws for herbal medicines

It is absurd to have lower standards for herbal medicine than for ethical medicines

New laws come into force on Saturday that are aimed at protecting consumers from potentially harmful herbal medicines. Under a European directive, herbal medicines on sale in shops will have to be registered. Products must meet safety, quality and manufacturing standards, and come with information outlining possible side-effects.

The Medicines and Health care Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there had been 211 applications for approval, with 105 granted so far and the rest still under consideration. Some herbal practitioners fear the move could threaten their businesses.

Commonly used ingredients already registered include echinacea, used against colds, St John's wort, used by some for depression and anxiety, and valerian, claimed as a natural remedy for insomnia. Research conducted for the MHRA in 2009 showed that 26% of UK adults had taken a herbal medicine in the past two years.

The agency said it is hoping to promote a more cautious approach to using herbal medicines after the study findings found that more than half of people – 58% – believe the products are safe because they are natural.

The agency said there had been a number of health alerts over unlicensed herbal medicines over the years. In February the MHRA issued a warning about the herbal weight loss product Herbal Flos Lonicerae (Herbal Xenicol) Natural Weight Loss Formula after tests showed it contained more than twice the prescribed dose of a banned substance.


Life-extending prostate cancer pill could be available in a year

A pill that gives men with advanced prostate cancer an extra four months of life has come a step closer to being approved for use in Britain.

Zytiga is a hormonal drug that cuts off the source of testosterone, which makes prostate cancer cells grow. Standard hormone treatments for prostate cancer block production of male hormones in the testes, but recent research shows that tumours can produce their own supply, as does the adrenal gland. Zytiga blocks all testosterone generation.

It can be used in up to 80 per cent of patients with aggressive drug-resistant prostate cancer who have run out of options after exhausting a range of anti-hormonal therapies and chemotherapies.

The drug is not yet available for use on the NHS, but makers Johnson & Johnson have applied for licensing approval in Europe that could be granted by the end of this year. That approval looks more likely after U.S. watchdogs at the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to the drug there nearly two months earlier than expected, following its success in trials.

A trial on almost 800 patients in 13 countries found those taking the drug combined with conventional steroid treatment survived for about 15 months, compared with 11 months on steroids alone. The study was cut short so all patients could be given Zytiga – clinical name abiraterone acetate – after independent monitors determined a clear survival benefit.

Around 250,000 men in the UK are living with prostate cancer, with 37,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It is the biggest cancer killer after lung cancer, with 10,000 men dying from the disease each year.

Zytiga was discovered by British scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research. Professor Johann de Bono, of the ICR said: ‘This news will be incredibly important to prostate cancer patients and their families.’


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