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It's truly wonderful the way that drugs companies can reinvent their products, even those that are discredited

It's truly wonderful the way that drugs companies can reinvent their products, even those that are discredited. The most creative example of this reincarnation (or perhaps we should call it 'lateral thinking') is the morning sickness pill thalidomide, which caused horrific deformities in some babies. Today it is being used in developing countries to treat leprosy.
The latest to enjoy the 'repositioning' experience is the family of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and especially the newer generation of COX-2 drugs.
These painkillers have been suffering a bad press of late, mainly because they've been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. So what should a drug company do in the face of public pressure? Take the drugs off the market to assuage an attack of corporate unease? Hell, no, just push them to another group of patients.
Latest in line are those poor unfortunates with colon cancer. Scientists reckon that the NSAID family is just the thing for them. One study has found that the COX-2 drug celecoxib, marketed as Celebrex, could reduce the risk of death among these cancer victims.
It's interesting to note that around the exact same time the American drug regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, was warning doctors to restrict the use of Celebrex following a study that showed it increased the risk of death three times.
OK, says another group of scientists, how about giving NSAIDs to smokers? Apparently a Norwegian study has found that the drugs could reduce the rate of oral cancer among smokers, provided they had been on the drug for at least six months.
Unfortunately the NSAIDs didn't improve the overall survival rate of smokers. Although there were fewer deaths due to oral cancer, more were dying from heart problems. In fact, said one of the researchers, "much to our surprise we ended up with a finding that long-term NSAID use was associated with a doubling of the risk of cardiovascular death."
Don't these guys ever read the newspapers?


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