Pharmaceuticals

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

One of the most important tools of modern medicine is in jeopardy. In the 20th century, antibiotics turned once-lethal infections into manageable diseases. They also contributed to the transformation of meat production in America.

Now, overuse of the drugs in both humans and animals is to blame for the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control blames for at least 23,000 deaths a year.

"We are nearly on the brink of being back in the pre-antibiotic era," said Loreen Herwaldt, a University of Iowa professor of infectious disease and internal medicine. "And that's pretty scary, in terms of not having anything to treat people with who have serious infections."

Mary MacCarthy / Special to Rocky Mountain PBS

New and experimental drugs are extending the lives of people with the deadliest forms of cancer. At the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Aurora, Dr. Ross Camidge leads clinical trials for lung cancer, which kills more people each year than breast cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer combined.

Camidge calls them "niche-busters" – targeted therapies that dig deep into the profiles of each individual cancer. Researchers have discovered that just as individual patients have different genetic make-ups, so do their tumors.

Compassion and Choices

This fall, the highly publicized death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer who decided to end her life, brought the "right to die" movement a lot of attention.

Anne Singer, campaigns communications manager at the group Compassion and Choices, which advocates for death with dignity, as it is sometimes called, said the public response has been astonishing.

"Nothing like this has ever happened to our organization before. Our website crashed…the momentum is definitely picking up."

Photo courtesy of Colorado State University

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a $2 million contract to Colorado State University’s Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing and Academic Resource Center, to help develop a vaccine to protect against Ebola and similar viruses.

Gilead Sciences, Inc.

Starting in June, Colorado’s Medicaid agency will cover a breakthrough hepatitis C drug on a case-by-case basis, while it decides who will qualify for the potentially life-saving drug, and who will not.

For the first time in decades, researchers trying to develop a vaccine for malaria have discovered a new target they can use to attack this deadly and common parasite.

Most experimental drugs fail before they make it through all the tests required to figure out if they actually work and if they're safe. But some drugs get fairly far down that road, at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, based on poorly conducted studies at the outset.

Medical researchers reviewing this sorry state of affairs say the drug-development process needs serious improvement.

Later this spring, allergy sufferers will have access to a new form of help: a pill that can replace allergy shots. But the pill works only for grass allergies, and it's not clear how much it's going to cost.

The Food and Drug Administration just approved Oralair, the first sublingual allergy immunotherapy tablet for use in the United States. That's how regulators describe a pill that you stick under your tongue to tamp down your immune system.

Federal regulators this month opened a new era in the treatment of a deadly liver virus that infects three to five times more people than HIV. Now the question is: Who will get access to the new drug for hepatitis C, and when?

The drug Sovaldi will cost $1,000 per pill. A typical course of treatment will last 12 weeks and run $84,000, plus the cost of necessary companion drugs. Some patients may need treatment for twice as long.

The Food and Drug Administration Thursday announced that it wants the federal government to impose tough new restrictions on some of the most widely used prescription painkillers.

The FDA said it planned to recommend that Vicodin and other prescription painkillers containing the powerful opioid hydrocodone be reclassified from a "Schedule III" drug to a "Schedule II" drug, which would impose new restrictions on how they are prescribed and used.

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