Health Highlights: June 17, 2016

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Good Results Halt Lung Cancer Drug Study

A clinical trial of a new lung cancer drug called Keytruda was halted because it’s so effective that researchers want to offer it to all the patients in the study.

The trial included 305 lung cancer patients who had not yet received any treatment and was designed to compare Keytruda to standard chemotherapy, NBC News reported.

But because the new drug worked as well as, or better than, chemotherapy, the study was stopped so all the patients could take Keytruda, according to drug maker Merck. The company said the drug extended patients’ survival and also helped them live longer without their tumors growing or spreading.

The study details are not available yet.

“I suspect the findings were significant enough that this will be a practice-changing finding,” Dr. Pasi Janne, a lung cancer specialist at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told NBC News.

Keytruda is the drug former president Jimmy Carter said slowed advanced melanoma skin cancer that had spread to his brain.


Personalized Combo Therapy May Help Curb Alzheimer’s: Study

A highly-personalized combination treatment program reversed Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in patients, according to researchers.

The Buck Institute investigators said their findings suggest the degenerative brain disease is more treatable than previously believed, United Press International reported.

The study included 10 people with mild cognitive impairment, subjective cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers created personalized multi-faceted treatment programs for each patient, including diet changes, exercise, improved sleep, brain stimulation, drugs and vitamins.

The patients were treated for between five and 24 months. All 10 patients showed improvements in thinking and memory, and some were even able to return to work and complete tasks that had become impossible for them as their mental abilities declined, UPI reported.

“The magnitude of improvement in these 10 patients is unprecedented, providing additional objective evidence that this programmatic approach to cognitive decline is highly effective,” Dr. Dale Bredesen, a professor at the Buck Institute and the University of California Los Angeles, said in a news release.

“Even though we see the far-reaching implications of this success, we also realize that this is a very small study that needs to be replicated in larger numbers at various sites,” Bredeson added.

The study in the journal Aging was small, but points to new ways to treat Alzheimer’s instead of using just one or two drugs to delay declines in mental function, according to the researchers.

Their approach was inspired by some of the recent successes in using combination therapy to treat heart disease, cancer and HIV, UPI reported.

“Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it, and your drug patched one hole very well — the drug may have worked, a single ‘hole’ may have been fixed, but you still have 35 other leaks, and so the underlying process may not be affected much,” Bredesen said.

“We think addressing multiple targets within the molecular network may be additive, or even synergistic, and that such a combinatorial approach may enhance drug candidate performance, as well,” Bredeson explained.


Philadelphia Passes First Big-City Soda Tax

A 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages was passed by Philadelphia City Council on Thursday in order to raise money for a number of community programs.

It’s the first such tax implemented in a major American city, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The tax is expected to raise about $91 million a year to fund: expansion of pre-kindergarten programs; new community schools; improvements to parks, recreation centers and libraries; and a tax credit program for businesses that sell healthy beverages.

The city plans to start collecting the tax on Jan. 1 but a legal challenge is likely, according to the Inquirer.

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