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Health Highlights: May 9, 2013

Wrigley Halts Sales of Caffeinated Gum U.S. Drug Spending Declines for First Time in Decades Cervical Cancer Vaccine Prices Cut for Poor Nations

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

Wrigley Halts Sales of Caffeinated Gum

Wrigley Co. announced Wednesday that it will pull its new caffeinated gum off the market while the U. S. Food and Drug Administration investigates the safety of adding caffeine to food products.

Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner of foods, said in a statement to the Associated Press that Wrigley's decision "demonstrates real leadership and commitment to the public health." Taylor added that the company had talks with the agency before making the announcement.

"After discussions with the FDA, we have a greater appreciation for its concern about the proliferation of caffeine in the nation's food supply," Wrigley North America President Casey Keller said in a statement to the AP.

Keller told the wire service that production and sales of Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, which has the equivalent of half a cup of coffee in each stick, will be suspended until the FDA can craft a way to regulate caffeine-added products. The agency had announced it would investigate the issue just as the gum was introduced to consumers last month.

Other food manufacturers have added caffeine to candy, nuts and other snack foods in recent years, according to the AP, and health organizations have questioned the safety of marketing caffeine products to children, who do not metabolize the stimulant the same way adults do.


U.S. Drug Spending Declines for First Time in Decades

A flood of cheaper generic versions of popular prescription medicines is the main reason for the first drop in drug spending in the U.S. in nearly six decades, says a report from a leading pharmaceutical research group.

Consumer drug costs were $325.8 billion in 2012, a one percent decrease from 2011, according to IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, the decline was 3.5 percent. Average spending per person in 2012 was $898, which was $33 lower than in 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Another factor that contributed to lower drug spending in 2012 was a weaker-than-normal cough, cold and flu season, according to IMS.

The researchers also found that while U.S. pharmacies filled more prescriptions overall in 2012, there was a slight decline in the number of prescriptions filled on a per-person basis, the Times reported.

That could mean that some people didn't take prescribed drugs or that consumers are getting more efficient health care, said IMS research director Michael Kleinrock.


Cervical Cancer Vaccine Prices Cut for Poor Nations

The prices of two vaccines that protect against cervical cancer are being cut to below $5 per dose for the world's poorest countries, vaccine makers Merck and GlaxoSmithKline announced Thursday.

The price cuts will eventually make it possible for millions of girls and women in those countries to be protected against a major cause of cancer death. Pap tests have made fatal cervical cancers almost unknown in rich nations, but the disease kills an estimated 275,000 women a year in poor countries, The New York Times reported.

The announcement of the lower prices -- $4.50 per dose for Merck's Gardasil vaccine and $4.60 for Glaxo's Cervarix -- is "a great step forward for women and girls," said the World Health Organization.

The vaccines cost about $130 a dose in the United States and each girl needs three doses, The Times reported.

The lower prices will initially apply to a few million doses for demonstration projects in Kenya, Ghana, Laos, Madagascar and other locations, but by 2020, 30 million girls in 40 countries should get the vaccines at the reduced cost or lower, according to Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of the GAVI Alliance.

The lower vaccine prices were negotiated through the alliance, which was created in 1999 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to deliver more vaccines to poor people worldwide, The Times reported.

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