Pharma Marketers are increasingly using creative educational displays to help healthcare providers understand their patients’ special needs. For example, the Arthritis Simulation Glove (developed by Georgia Tech Research Institute) lets rheumatologists and other physicians experience the challenges of stiff, arthritic hands.

The gloves are part of an “experiential station,” created by OneWorld, Inc. which incorporates a sink and faucet with running water, a laundry detergent bottle and a real taxi-cab door. Doctors use these props in routine household tasks, first without and then with the glove, rating each effort on a 100-point visual analog scale (100=No Difficulty and 0=Unable to Perform). In one recent test, the average ease-of-use ratings dropped from 80 to 30 after doctors put on the glove. Finally, participating prescribers receive Web keys to distribute to patients and staff for education and training. In one outing, six experiential stations drew more than 1,000 participating HCPs, and, post-convention, Web-keyed patient page views ran more than 100 times the number of HCPs who participated in the exhibit. —From John Ruane, jbruane@rcipr.com, a Chicago-based author, journalist and healthcare communications consultant.

Brain Drain

A warning to all elderly patients: declining brain function and an increased risk of death are two side effects of taking a combination of commonly used drugs including antihistamines and antidepressants, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers from Britain’s University of East Anglia wanted to examine the long-term impact of anticholinergic activity—a known side effect of many medications— which blocks a vital neurotransmitter called acetylcholine from the brain. Antidepressants such as Elavil, Tryptizol, Laroxyl, and Anafranil all have some anticholinergic effect as does the antihistamine Piriton, tranquilizers such as Stelazine, and the heart drug nifedipine sold by Mylan and Bayer in extended release form, according to Reuters.

The researchers rated more than 80 drugs based on their anticholinergic effect using a system they developed called the AntiCholinergic Burden (ACB) score. Drugs were assigned a 0 for no effect, 1 for mild, 2 for moderate, or 3 for severe. Between 1991 and 1993, investigators used this system to analyze the effect of these drugs on 13,000 British patients aged 65 or over by calculating each participant’s combined ACB score. By the end of the study, 20% of participants with an ACB score of four or higher died, compared with only 7% of those taking no anticholinergic drugs. The odds of death increased by 26% with each additional ACB point. Brain function was also affected—those with an ACB score of five or higher scored 4% lower on cognitive function tests than those who took no anticholinergic drugs.

“Clinicians should conduct regular reviews of the medication taken by their older patients, both prescribed and over-the-counter, and wherever possible avoid prescribing multiple drugs with anticholinergic effects,” Dr Chris Fox, leader of the research team, told BBC News.

Though it noted that these are “important findings,” a statement from the UK National Health Service pointed out that “the study had some important limitations”: the data are 20 years old, the study could not tell whether subjects had taken the drugs as prescribed, and it is hard to tell whether “the slight mental decline seen in testing translated into a decline in functioning in everyday life.” —Andrew Matthius.


Diabetes continues to be a ballooning issue— a new study revealed that the number of adult diabetics worldwide has more than doubled. In fact, it has jumped from 153 million in 1980 to 347 million in 2008, according to results published in The Lancet. This current total is much higher than a previous projection, which estimated 285 million had diabetes, according to Reuters.

This study, conducted by an international team of researchers in conjunction with The World Health Organization, found that over the past 30 years diabetes rates either rose or, at best, remained stagnant in the various parts of the world. Rates were highest in the United States, Greenland, Malta, New Zealand, and Spain, while the Netherlands, Austria, and France had the lowest incidence levels. The nations that experienced the highest recent spikes include the Marshall Islands and Saudi Arabia, while Eastern Europe remained stable, according to HealthDay. In terms of gender, the number of men with diabetes rose to 9.8% (an increase of about 18% since 1980), while the rise was even more pronounced for women: a total of 9.2% of women across the globe have diabetes—an increase of nearly 23%.

Two of the study’s authors, Prof. Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London and Dr. Goodarz Danaei of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, believe that 70% of the rise in diabetes can be attributed to the fact that people are simply living longer and the chance for diabetes increases with age, according to HealthDay. They said the other 30% is a result of an increase in obesity rates, higher body mass indexes, and other such issues not related to age.

According to IMS Health, global sales of diabetes treatments totaled $35 billion last year and could potentially reach $48 billion by 2015. —A.M.


The FDA approved Merck’s redesigned drug labels with a new standardized format to improve readability and provide better information on product and strength differentiation in order to reduce pharmacy selection errors. Merck’s Label Standardization Project includes the revision of 34 container labels for 16 solid oral drugs including: Cozaar, Crixivan, Hyzaar, Isentress, Janumet, Januvia, Mevacor, Noroxin, Prinivil, Prinizide, Propecia, Proscar, Singulair (shown), Zocor, and Zolinza.

The results of three FDA studies confirmed that the way information is conveyed and displayed in printed drug advertising affects consumer understanding of prescription medications. Key findings include: Adding a serious risk to the first and second pages of the ad did not hinder people’s understanding of the risk information. Including additional information on the second page about how often side effects occur and how long they may last did not hinder people’s understanding. Participants who viewed the information in a Prescription Drug Facts Box (resembling the current OTC Drug Facts label) were better able to recall risks than those who viewed the traditional format (block text paragraphs).

Pfizer and Acura Pharmaceuticals announced the FDA approval of Oxecta (oxycodone HCl, USP) Tablets CII for the management of acute and chronic moderate to severe pain where the use of an opioid analgesic is appropriate.

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Nulojix (belatacept) was approved to prevent acute rejection in adult patients who have had a kidney transplant.

The FDA approved Potiga (ezogabine) tablets for use as an add-on medication to treat seizures associated with epilepsy in adults. Potiga was developed by Valeant Pharmaceuticals North America and will be distributed by GlaxoSmithKline.

Optimer Pharmaceuticals’ Dificid (fidaxomicin) tablets were approved for the treatment of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea (CDAD).

The FDA announced that Pfizer’s smoking cessation aid Chantix (varenicline) could be linked with a small, increased risk of certain cardiovascular adverse events in patients with cardiovascular disease. This information will be added to the Warnings and Precautions section of Chantix’s label. —A.M.



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