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Drug helps fight Paget's disease

A new orphan drug may pull in the reins on out-of-control bones. The condition's called Paget's disease, and it wreaks havoc by accelerating bone formation before the old stuff's broken down. Though most people who have it don't need treatment, there's a small number who aren't so lucky. They often suffer from bone pain, deformities and fractures.

Here's where gallium nitrate comes in. In a preliminary study, the drug dramatically slowed the disease in 10 patients whose earlier standard treatment had failed.

In the one- to two-week treatment, this destructive bone process was reduced by 50 percent (Annals of Internal Medicine, December 1990).

"Some patients experienced marked pain relief and reductions in analgesic intake as well as in markers for bone turnover.

There was also an increase in mobility," says Raymond P. Warrell Jr., M.D., associate physician-in-chief at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City. "We don't know how long the benefits will last, but we're doing a longer study to find out." Previously, the patients had been treated with calcitonin and detidronate, as well as some other drugs, with little or no success.

The drug may work by enhancing the building of new bone while blocking the accelerated rate of bone breakdown. The drug has also been found to be effective in combating hypercalcemia, a disease in which cancer patients have deadly amounts of calcium in their blood.

"We have hopes that if these results are validated, gallium nitrate may become an important treatment for Paget's disease," says Dr. Warrell.

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By Greg Gutfeld

With Maureen Sangiorgio; Linda Rao

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