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Health Highlights: May 15, 2008

Large Increase Predicted in Cancer Drug Spending Court Overturns Vioxx Verdict Sweetwater Cheese Recalled Due to Possible Listeria Contamination Multi-Drug Approach Needed in Bird Flu Pandemic: Study Meningitis B Vaccine Shows Promise Vitamin D May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Large Increase Predicted in Cancer Drug Spending

Compared to all other drugs, spending on cancer medicines worldwide will grow twice as fast in coming years because emerging nations such as China, Russia and Brazil are boosting spending on diagnosing and treating cancer, according to a report released Thursday by the health care research firm IMS Health.

The overall global drug market is expected to grow by 6.4 percent a year through 2012, while cancer drug spending is expected to increase between 12 percent and 15 percent a year, reaching $75 billion to $80 billion by 2012, the Associated Press reported.

In addition to increased cancer spending by emerging nations, cancer is a priority among drug firms with multibillion-dollar research and development budgets.

"Oncology is the top of the bill when it comes to new products in development. Oncology R&D dwarfs all other research efforts within these organizations," the wire service quoted Titus Pattel, an IMS vice president, as saying.

This year, worldwide cancer drug sales are expected to reach $48 billion.

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Court Overturns Vioxx Verdict

A multimillion dollar verdict in a Vioxx lawsuit has been overturned by a Texas court.

The family of 71-year-old Leonel Garza was awarded $32 million two years ago, although damage caps reduced the amount to about $8 million. Garza had been taking Vioxx for less than a month when he died, the Associated Press reported.

But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said Garza's family failed to prove that a 23-year battle with heart disease wasn't the cause of his fatal 2001 heart attack.

"Today's decision reaffirms that there is simply no reliable scientific evidence that Vioxx caused Mr. Garza's heart attack," Ted Mayer, outside legal counsel for drug maker Merck and Company, said in a prepared statement, the AP reported.

Vioxx was taken off the market in 2004 after studies showed it increased users' risks of heart attack and stroke. Merck faces numerous lawsuits over the drug.

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Sweetwater Cheese Recalled Due to Possible Listeria Contamination

Potential listeria contamination has prompted the recall of Tennessee Aged Black Pepper Cheese made by Sweetwater Farm, Inc. of Philadelphia, Tenn. Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly, and others with weak immune systems, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

In healthy people, listeria may cause short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. In addition, listeria can cause miscarriage and stillbirths among pregnant women. No illnesses in connection with the cheese have been reported.

The recalled cheese, lot number 616-361, was distributed in 5-, 7-, and 10-ounce bars through the Sweetwater retail store in Philadelphia, Tenn. and a winery in Portland, Tenn. between December 27, 2007 and May 12, 2008.

Consumers with the recalled cheese should return it to the store for replacement or a refund. For more information, contact Sweetwater at 1-877-862-4332.

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Multi-Drug Approach Needed in Bird Flu Pandemic: Study

No single drug alone would be adequate to treat all people who would become infected during a worldwide flu pandemic, and nations need to stockpile more than one type of drug, say scientists at the National Institute for Medical Research in Great Britain.

They analyzed samples of H5N1 bird flu that had infected humans and found a mutation that made it resistant to the anti-viral drug Tamiflu. However, the mutation didn't protect the virus from another drug called Relenza, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Nature.

"In order not to be outflanked by the virus, it will be necessary to have stocks of both existing drugs," said research team leader Dr. Steve Gamblin, BBC News reported. "There is a huge imperative to develop further drugs and it is likely a future pandemic will need to be tackled using a three- or four-pronged approach, much as we tackle HIV today."

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Meningitis B Vaccine Shows Promise

Preliminary clinical trials of a vaccine against meningitis B yielded "encouraging" results, according to drug maker Novartis.

Doses of the vaccine were given to 150 British infants at two, four, six and 12 months. One month after the third dose, the children's immune response against three strains of meningitis B was 89 percent, 98 percent and 93 percent. After the fourth dose, the immune response was 100 percent, 98 percent and 93 percent, BBC News reported.

"These initial results... show that the vaccine induces an immune response against strains containing the vaccine components. The next step is to find how broad these responses are against other strains that cause disease," said Dr. Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford. Pollard helped run the study.

This could be a major advance in combating meningitis, Professor David Salisbury, director of immunization, U.K. Department of Health, told BBC News.

"We have vaccinations against three of the four causes of bacterial meningitis. The one we have been waiting for is meningitis B. It has been a challenge for the past 20 years," Salisbury said. "This could be the beginning of getting a solution for meningitis B. The challenge has been to find a vaccine that works across different strains of the disease."

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Vitamin D May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study

Vitamin D may be able to prevent prostate cancer, according to University of Rochester Medical Center researchers who found that the vitamin increases the activity of the gene G6PD and its production of an enzyme called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase.

Increased activity of this enzyme clears cells of free radicals that can damage DNA and lead to cancer, United Press International reported.

The researchers used 1,25-hydroxylvitamin D3, the most powerful and active form of vitamin D in the human body. The study is published in the International Journal of Cancer.

"If you reduce DNA damage, you reduce the risk of cancer or aging," study leader Yi-Fen Lee said in a prepared statement, UPI reported.

"Our study adds one more beneficial effect of taking a vitamin D supplement. Taking a supplement is especially important for senior citizens and others who might have less circulation of vitamin D, and for people who live and work in areas where there is less sunshine," Lee said.

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