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Health Highlights: Oct. 1, 2003

Minn. Sues Drug Giant Over Canada Imports House Gears Up to Pass Contact Lens Bill NIH Adopts New Plan to Speed Medical Research U.K. Women Lose Court Battle Over Frozen Embryos Judge Allows Cancer Suit by Former IBM Workers

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

Minn. Sues Drug Giant Over Canada Imports

Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch has filed a lawsuit charging that the giant drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline is leading a conspiracy to stop people from his state from buying cheaper drugs from Canada.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Hatch is demanding documents demonstrating that GlaxoSmithKline is spearheading a campaign to get around ever-rising drug prices in the United States.

"Glaxo's arrogance has been demonstrated twofold: First by boycotting Minnesotans who go to Canada to save money on their drugs, and now by essentially 'boycotting' this office by refusing to produce its records in Canada and England," the paper quotes Hatch as saying.

Hatch also issued a report saying that the drug industry, which in the document is called "the other drug cartel," spends three times as much on administration and marketing as it does on research and development.

A spokeswoman for the company told the Pioneer Press that it has done nothing wrong, and was surprised by the lawsuit.

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House Gears Up to Pass Contact Lens Bill

A House of Representatives committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would force eye doctors to provide patients with a prescription for their contact lenses.

The Associated Press reports that the legislation aims at halting a loophole that many thought took advantage of patients. Whereas people are entitled to a prescription for eyeglasses, no such provision exists for contact lens wearers.

According to the AP, consumer advocates allege that some eye care professionals exploit that loophole by refusing to provide prescriptions unless patients agree to buy another pair of contact lenses at much higher prices.

If the bill passes, consumers will no longer be "caught in the competitive tug-of-war between doctors and third-party sellers of contact lenses," the AP quotes House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) as saying.

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NIH Adopts New Plan to Speed Medical Research

The U.S. National Institutes of Health is adopting a new set of rules that its director says promise to speed the results of medical research to needy patients, The New York Times reports.

Dr. Elias Zerhouni says the new rules "are turbocharging the NIH" by getting the highly decentralized agency more involved in the earliest stages of drug research -- even before the medications are tested in people. He says the agency will help set the priorities of the thousands of researchers who receive its grants, rather than the other way around.

Zerhouni says he hopes new NIH-sponsored projects will shed the idea of a single lead investigator, in favor of "team science" conducted by cross-discipline groups of molecular biologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, behavioral scientists, pharmacologists and epidemiologists, the Times reports.

Zerhouni's "road map" also includes plans to create a public collection of hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds that would enable access to research technology that's now only available to the major drug companies, the newspaper says.

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U.K. Women Lose Court Battle Over Frozen Embryos

Two women in the United Kingdom have lost court battles to use their frozen embryos despite objections from their former partners, BBC News Online reports.

Britain's High Court ruled against the plaintiffs, Natallie Evans and Lorraine Hadley, who had brought the same issue to the court in two separate cases. Both challenged a law that says both the man and woman must consent to the use of a frozen embryo during every stage of the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process.

The High Court ordered that the embryos of both women be destroyed, but that action could be delayed if the women appeal the ruling, the BBC says.

Both former partners object to the use of the embryos now that their relationships with the plaintiffs have ended.

For Evans, 30, it's her last chance to bear her own child. She's undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, which has left her infertile. Hadley, 37, suffers from fertility problems caused by an unidentified medical condition, the BBC reports.

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Judge Allows Cancer Suit by Former IBM Workers

Two former IBM workers can pursue their lawsuits alleging that their semiconductor factory jobs exposed them to cancer-causing chemicals, a California Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.

While Judge Robert Baines ruled that the cases of Alida Hernandez and James Moore could proceed, he also dismissed two similar suits against the company, the Associated Press reports.

Hernandez and Moore worked at IBM's South San Jose plant during the 1970s and 1980s. They allege that the company knowingly exposed them to chemicals, including benzene and arsenic, then lied to them about the health risks. Their suits claim IBM knew that many factory workers were dying prematurely from various forms of cancer, the AP reports.

Hernandez, diagnosed with breast cancer, and Moore, battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, are also seeking unspecified damages from some of IBM's suppliers, including Union Carbide, Shell Oil, and Fisher Scientific. Their cases represent the first of more than 250 lawsuits against IBM brought by former semiconductor workers, the wire service says.

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