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By John Schieszer
Medical Minutes 

Advances in treatments for cancer and flu


October 1, 2018

A new tool against the flu

A single dose of a new influenza drug may significantly shorten the duration of the illness in adults, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Researchers conducted two multicenter, double-blind, randomized clinical trials. Both trials found that the drug, baloxavir marboxil, shortened the duration of flu symptoms by about one day and more quickly cleared the influenza virus compared with placebo in otherwise healthy adults.

A larger, phase 3 trial also found that baloxavir’s effect on symptoms was similar to that of a five-day course of oseltamivir (Tamiflu), but that baloxavir had significantly greater antiviral potency. The studies identified no important side effects.

“Baloxavir shows remarkable antiviral potency in uncomplicated influenza, and if approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it would be an important addition to our treatment options for influenza,” said researcher Frederick G. Hayden, MD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. “Of note, because baloxavir has a novel antiviral action in inhibiting the endonuclease of the virus, the drug is inhibitory for influenza A and B viruses including those that may be resistant to currently available drugs.”

To become available, baloxavir would need approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The drug was accepted for priority review by the FDA in June. A decision is expected by Dec. 24, 2018, at the latest. Studies of its effectiveness in hospitalized influenza patients now are planned. Other studies will look at this agent in combination with other influenza antivirals, and in preventing transmission of influenza virus.


Significant advances in the war on cancer

New and even more effective ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat cancer are paying off. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has released its annual Cancer Progress Report highlighting some of the incredible changes occurring in the war on cancer.

The report shows that 22 treatments for cancer were approved for the first time by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or approved for new types of cancer between Aug. 1, 2017, and July 31, 2018. Among these treatments are revolutionary new immunotherapeutics called CAR T–cell therapies, exciting new targeted radiotherapeutics, and numerous new targeted therapeutics that are expanding the scope of precision medicine.

The U.S. cancer death rate declined by 26 percent for adults from 1991 to 2015, a reduction that translates into almost 2.4 million lives saved, according to the latest data. The cigarette smoking rate among U.S. adults has fallen to 14 percent, down from 42 percent in 1965. The report emphasizes that despite the significant strides being made against cancer, the disease continues to pose enormous public health challenges. The number of new cancer cases in the United States is predicted to rise from more

than 1.7 million in 2018 to almost 2.4 million in 2035, due largely to the increasing number of people age 65 and older.

“There has never been a time of greater excitement in the cancer field,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD, chief executive officer of the AACR. “The rapid pace and broad scope of the progress against cancer are extraordinary. We have the scientific knowledge, cutting-edge technologies, and capability to deliver a new wave of innovations that will stimulate more lifesaving progress.”

Rethinking statins in some older adults

A new study is questioning whether some older adults should be taking a statin medication for their cholesterol levels. The study does not support widespread use of statins in healthy older people to prevent heart disease. Any protective effect was limited to those with type 2 diabetes aged between 75 and 84.

In a newly published study, Spanish researchers found statins are not associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease or death in healthy people age 75 or older. Using data from the Catalan primary care system database (SIDIAP), the researchers identified 46,864 people age 75 years or more with no history of cardiovascular disease between 2006 and 2015. Participants were grouped into those with and without type 2 diabetes and as statin non-users or new users (anyone starting statins for the first time during the study enrollment period). Primary care and hospital records were then used to track cases of CVD (including coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack and stroke) and death from any cause (all-cause mortality) over an average of 5.6 years.

In participants without diabetes, statin treatment was not associated with a reduction in CVD or all-cause mortality in both old and very old age groups, even though the risk of CVD in both groups was higher than the risk thresholds proposed for statin use in guidelines. However, in participants with diabetes, statins were associated with significantly reduced levels of CVD (24 percent) and all-cause mortality (16 percent) in those age 75 to 84 years. The study showed that this protective effect declined after age 85 and disappeared by age 90.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.  He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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