A major health alert has been issued on a class of drugs for treating anaemia. Known as 'erythropoiesis-stimulating agents', they can cause fatal cancers and heart problems.
In an earlier study of 1432 patients, 222 suffered heart problems, some of which were fatal.
America's drugs watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has issued a federal alert on these drugs, and will shortly be meeting to review their continued availability. In the meantime, the FDA is advising doctors to keep dosages of these drugs low.
These drugs are big business. In 2002, the latest year for which figures are available, global sales reached$8.1 billion (lb4.2 billion), an increase of 18 per cent over the previous year.
The drugs are routinely given to patients who are anaemic as a resultof chronic kidney failure, cancer, chemotherapy treatment, or HIV/AIDS (www.fda.gov/Medwatch/safety/2006/safety06.htm#drugs).