Health Highlights: Dec. 17, 2008

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

U.S. Public Health Agency Leaders Being Replaced

The leaders of a number of U.S. government public health agencies are expected to resign or be shown the door as President-elect Obama's team takes control of the White House.

Each of the current public health agency chiefs has severe critics on Capitol Hill and in the public health community, and there have been repeated charges that the Bush administration has let politics play a major role in science policy, The New York Times reported.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • U.S. Public Health Agency Leaders Being Replaced
    • Illinois Company Faces Lawsuit Over Preemie Heart Drug
    • Gene Mutation Effects Should Be Listed on Cancer Drug Labels: Lilly, Amgen
    • Actor Peter Falk Has Alzheimer's, Daughter Says
    • Cleveland Clinic Announces First U.S. Face Transplant

On Tuesday, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach said he would resign on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. Dr. Elias Zerhouni has already left his position as director of the National Institutes of Health, and it's widely expected that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Julie Gerberding will be replaced by the new administration.

In addition, National Cancer Institute director Dr. John E. Niederhuber is expected to surrender his post, but may remain at the institute, The Times reported.

One leading candidate for the new FDA chief is Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a pediatrician and health commissioner of Baltimore. Last year, he petitioned the FDA to ban some pediatric over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.

Another short-listed candidate for FDA leader is Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. He's been a fierce critic of the safety of several big-selling medications.

There's wide agreement among drug companies, drug-safety advocates, and powerful members of Congress that the FDA needs a major overhaul.

"The FDA has increasingly lost its emphasis on public health, and all of us have been harmed as a result," Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, told the Times.

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Illinois Company Faces Lawsuit Over Preemie Heart Drug

Illinois-based Ovation Pharmaceuticals illegally maintained a monopoly on the only two medicines approved to treat a potentially life-threatening heart defect in premature infants, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission alleges in a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The FTC said that after buying the rights to the two medicines (NeoProfen and Indocin) a few years ago, the company boosted the drugs' prices by nearly 1,300 percent. The lawsuit seeks to prevent Ovation from maintaining simultaneous interest in the two drugs and also seeks forfeiture of all unlawfully obtained profits, the Associated Press reported.

Ovation set the price for both medications at about $500. Before it was acquired by Ovation, Indocin cost $36. Each year, the two drugs are used to treat an estimated 30,000 babies with the heart defect called patent ductus arteriousus. The only other option to drug treatment is surgery, which costs far more than the drugs and carries a risk of serious complications.

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