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Medicare Part D Study Highlights North-South Disparities

Patients’ access to diabetes and heart-failure drugs through Medicare plans in the first two years of the Part D option did not guarantee proper therapy, researchers at the University of Maryland (UM) found in a nationwide study. Medicare patients in the northern regions of the United States spent more for Part D drugs for the two conditions and tended to adhere better to taking the drugs than did patients in southern regions. All of the 10 lowest-spending areas were in southern states, and all of the 10 highest-spending areas were in northern or central states.

“We think it is more patient behavior than physician behavior,” said Dr. Bruce Stuart, lead researcher and the Parke-Davis chair in geriatric pharmacotherapy at the UM School of Pharmacy. “We are trying to find out what [the] factors might be. Why would there be regional differences in terms of patient behavior?”

Although the researchers couldn’t find much difference in who was taking the drugs, they found that among people who used them, regimen adherence was higher in the north and that made drug spending higher. By analyzing subsequent years of the Part D plan, Stuart hopes to reach conclusions regarding the impact on hospital costs and services utilization for people using and adhering to the heart and diabetes drug regimens.

Howard University Forges Partnership to Develop New Drugs

Howard University College of Pharmacy signed a multiyear agreement with TNI BioTech Inc., a firm that develops immunotherapy drugs to treat patients with chronic diseases. The College of Pharmacy will assist in TNI BioTech’s efforts to provide affordable healthcare and help develop pharmaceutical skills among pharmacists in Africa.

The college will support the development of new and commercial delivery forms of low-dose Naltrexone. Used to help people who have stopped drinking alcohol and are using opiates to continue abstention, the drug could be effective in treating HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases. The college will also develop commercial forms of Met-Enkephalin (MENK), a drug that enhances the immune system. Combining MENK with a low dose of Naltrexone could help treat other diseases.

The agreement allows TNI BioTech to help the college obtain funding for the upgrade and further development of its Center for Drug Research. Once completed and qualified as a Current Good Manufacturing Practice facility, which means it adheres to regulations enforced by the Food and Drug Administration, the center will serve TNI BioTech and other companies looking to manufacture products in the United States for distribution domestically and abroad.

USC Receives $1.5 Million for International Research Collaboration

Thanks to a $1.5 million gift from University of Southern California Trustee Daniel M. Tsai, the School of Pharmacy will create a binational research center focused on a promising new lead in the fight against cancer. Researchers, based jointly at USC and in Taiwan, will explore the development of pharmaceuticals to target monoamine oxidase (MAO), a key enzyme that regulates brain function and may be linked to cancer risk. In recognition of the gift, a laboratory on USC’s Health Sciences Campus will be named the Daniel Tsai Laboratory for Translational Research.

MAO plays a vital role in the deactivation of neurotransmitters, and too much or too little may be responsible for neurological disorders, which is why MAO inhibitors have long been used as antidepressants. Recent studies, however, show that MAO inhibitors also have the potential to hinder the development of cancer. Fellows at the new center will spend up to two years training in the School of Pharmacy’s laboratories.

New Respiratory Virus Targeted by Purdue Researchers

Two Purdue University researchers who created compounds to block the SARS virus are now tackling the new Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. The team’s successful work on SARS paved the way for them to swiftly work on MERS-CoV, reducing key parts of the process from years to months, said Dr. Andrew Mesecar, the Walther Professor of Cancer Structural Biology and a professor of biological sciences and chemistry. Mesecar and Dr. Arun P. Ghosh, the Ian P. Rothwell Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, are testing compounds that could lead to potential treatments for the virus.

Sixty-one people have been infected by the virus, leading to 34 deaths, according to the most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus can spread from person to person and causes severe respiratory illness. “While MERS-CoV appears to be more virulent than SARS, molecular scaffolds and design concepts that we developed against SARS are very beneficial and timely,” Ghosh said. “Using our expertise in structure-based design and drug development, our team has already synthesized a number of specific MERS-CoV inhibitors.”

University of the Pacific Scientists Discover Potential Heart-Failure Drug

Researchers at the University of the Pacific Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences have discovered a drug that could potentially prevent familial amyloid cardiomyopathy and would be the first potential drug therapy for the disease. FAC is an inherited form of heart failure that affects nearly 4 percent of African Americans. Currently the only available cure is a combination of heart and liver transplant.

Transthyretin (TTR) is a protein that is synthesized by the liver and secreted into the blood, where it acts as the primary carrier of vitamin A. TTR mutations cause the abnormal deposit of insoluble proteins called amyloid in the heart tissue. FAC occurs when the mutation causes the protein to unravel, allowing it to aggregate. The aggregation of the proteins attacks the normal tissues of the heart, thus causing heart failure.

Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutics and Medicinal Chemistry Dr. Mamoun M. Alhamadsheh and his team, which included University of the Pacific graduate students and other researchers from the Scripps Research Institute and the Stanford School of Medicine, discovered AG10. It is a small molecule drug that effectively stabilized mutant TTR when tested in serum samples obtained from patients with FAC. The molecule is nontoxic in animals, making it attractive for pre-clinical evaluation.

“This discovery will potentially help patients who suffer from other forms of TTR diseases that affect the peripheral nervous system,” said Alhamadsheh. “It has been suggested that TTR plays a protective role against Alzheimer’s disease.”

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