Trending News Today: NCI Initiative Seeks to Improve Access to Cancer Drugs

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

The surge in heroin overdoses can largely be attributed to the change in OxyContin, a new study finds. In an effort to curb prescription drug abuse, Purdue Pharma has spent a decade and several hundred million dollars to develop a form of OxyContin that is more difficult to snort, smoke, or inject, according to the Los Angeles Times. Through these efforts, the misuse of painkillers has fallen; however, heroin overdoses have dramatically increased. Experts have placed the blame for the heroin epidemic on painkiller addicts switching to the cheaper and more accessible street opioids, the LA Times reported. Unfortunately, the first large-scale study has tied the dramatic rise in heroin deaths since 2010 to Purdue’s reformulation of OxyContin. In a statement issued by Purdue, they noted that government officials have been urging drug companies to develop abuse-deterrent painkillers, such as the reformulated OxyContin.

In an effort to speed up clinical trials, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) launched an initiative to create a virtual formulary that allows researchers to gain faster access to the drugs they want to test, according to The Washington Post. The virtual formulary will initially include 15 different medications donated by 6 manufacturers, and will allow the institute to act as an intermediary between drug companies and scientists at 69 NCI-designated cancer centers. Furthermore, the program will streamline the process through which researchers obtain the therapies, and will be particularly helpful for scientists who want to test combinations of drugs, the Post reported. Through the new public-private partnership, manufacturers will be held to tighter timelines to decide whether to provide drugs for proposed clinical trials, according to NCI officials. James Doroshow, deputy NCI director for clinical and translational research, said the institute is currently negotiating with a significant number of additional pharmaceutical companies. This could lead to twice the amount of drugs included in the formulary by the end of the year, the Post reported.

On Tuesday, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reiterated its 2009 recommendation that all women who can conceive should take 400 to 800 micrograms of vitamin B per day. Taking 1 pill per day of a folic acid supplement can lower the risk of a certain type of serious birth defect in the future, NPR reported. In 1991, a study found folic acid supplementation greatly reduced the risk of neural defects, including anencephaly and spina bifida. According to the USPSTF, fortification was associated with a drop in neural tube defects, from 10.7 cases per 10,000 life before fortification to 7 cases after fortification. Little evidence has been found of serious harm from folic acid supplementation in women of childbearing age, NPR reported.