Working Down to the Bone: New Osteoporosis Drug on Horizon

Bone is lost naturally with age. Osteoporosis is extreme, abnormal bone loss that can cause sudden fractures, especially in the spine and hip. Having new options for treatment would help the ten million Americans, 80% women, who have the disease.

A clinical trial of a new drug called abaloparatide, made by Radius, was tested against a placebo and the other bone-building drug Forteo. Forteo is very expensive, averaging over $3,000 for a four-week supply.  Its price has tripled in the last six years. Medical specialists are hoping the Radius drug will cost less than Forteo because insurers don’t like to cover the high-priced drug and encourage the use of bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax, as a cheaper option. Fosamax slows the loss of bone, but does not build new bone. The scary side effects of instantaneous breaks in the femur or jaw cause many patients to just take nothing instead.

The new drug would be injected daily, but is derived from a different hormone than Forteo, one that stimulates bone growth. Holes in weakened bone filled in faster with the new drug than Forteo. Patients can only take Forteo for two years since it causes bone cancer in rats with long exposure, and insurance will only cover two years.

No one treatment will work for every osteoporosis patient. Some patients lose bone quickly and bisphosphonates are preferred. Those who make bone more slowly need a bone-builder. Excessive calcium in the blood is dangerous, leading to lethargy and coma. A continuous flow of hormone leaches calcium from bone, but a single spike of the hormone builds bone.

If the Radius drug is approved, it will most likely be given to the highest risk patients. Patients would qualify if they are over 50 and have had a broken a bone in the wrist, spine, or hip without a trauma. It would also work for those who took a bisphosphonate and got an atypical fracture. It is guaranteed to cost much more than bisphosphonates, but not have the same side effects. Other than the price difference, both the new drug and Forteo prevent fractures equally.

Kolata, Gina. “Osteoporosis, a Disease With Few Treatment Options, May Soon Have One More.” Health. The New York Times, 16 Aug 2016. Web. 25 Aug 2016.

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