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What the papers say – weekly digest (07/06/24)

Written by | 7 Jun 2024 | Male & Female Health

Your weekly digest of the top healthcare stories, covering news published from 03/06/2024 – 07/06/2024.

The Guardian

Researchers have discovered a major driver of inflammatory bowel disease and several other immune disorders that affect the spine, liver and arteries, raising hope for millions of people worldwide who experience these conditions. The breakthrough is particularly exciting because the newly found biological pathway can be targeted by drugs that are already used, with work under way to adapt them to patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other conditions. ‘’What we have found is one of the very central pathways that goes wrong when people get inflammatory bowel disease and this has been something of a holy grail,’’ said Dr James Lee, the group leader of the Genetic Mechanisms of Disease Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute in London. More than half a million people in the UK have IBD, the two main forms of which are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, with at least 7 million affected globally. They arise when the immune system attacks the bowel, causing an array of debilitating symptoms from abdominal pain and weight loss to diarrhoea and blood in the stools. While medicines such as steroids can ease the symptoms, some patients require surgery to remove part of their bowel. Lee’s research team ‘’stumbled’’ on the discovery after investigating a ‘’gene desert’’, a stretch of DNA on chromosome 21 that does not code for proteins, which has previously been linked to IBD and other auto-immune diseases. Writing in Nature, they describe how they found a section of DNA that behaves like a volume control for nearby genes.  This ‘’enhancer’’ was seen only in immune cells called macrophages, where it boosted a gene called ETS2 and ramped up the risk of IBD. While there are no drugs specifically targeting the ETS2 gene, the scientists identified anticancer drugs called MEK inhibitors that they suspected might dampen the gene’s activity. In tests, the drugs performed as expected, reducing inflammation in gut samples from patients with IBD. Because MEK inhibitors have side-effects in other organs, the scientists have begun adapting the medicine so it targets only macrophages. Clinical trials are still needed to see whether the adapted drug reduces IBD and other autoimmune conditions, but because MEK inhibitors are already used, researchers hope that process could be completed within five years.

A 10-minute brain scan could detect dementia several years before people develop noticeable symptoms, a study suggests. Scientists used a scan of ‘’resting’’ brain activity to identify whether people would go on to develop dementia, with an estimated 80% accuracy up to nine years before they received a diagnosis. If the findings were confirmed in a larger cohort, the scan could become a routine procedure in clinics, scientists said. ‘’The function of the brain starts to change many years before you get dementia symptoms,’’ said Prof Charles Marshall, who led the work at Queen Mary University of London. ‘’This could help us to be more precise at identifying those changes using an MRI scan that you could do on any NHS scanner.’’ The research comes as a new generation of Alzheimer’s drugs is on the horizon. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is assessing lecanemab, made by Eisai and Biogen, and donanemab, made by Eli Lilly, with both drugs expected to be licensed this year. The researchers used functional MRI scans from 1,100 UK Biobank volunteers to detect changes in the brain’s ‘’default mode network’’ (DMN). The scan measures correlations in brain activity between different regions while the volunteer lies still. The network, which reflects how effectively different regions are communicating with each other, is known to be particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. Of the volunteers, 81 went on to develop dementia after the scan. The researchers used AI algorithms to identify changes to the DMN that were most characteristic of those at risk. The resultant model could identify those at risk with 80% accuracy up to nine years before diagnosis, according to the study published in Nature Mental Health. In the cases where the volunteers had gone on to develop dementia, the team could predict within a two-year margin of error exactly how long it would take for that diagnosis to be made. Changes to brain connectivity were also associated with known risk factors, including the genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease and social isolation. The team said a simple brain scan, which would take about 10 minutes, could be used alongside recently developed blood tests that target proteins in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Gazing at a screen that emits ‘’blue light’’ before bed does not seem to have a significant effect on sleep, scientists have said after reviewing the evidence. NHS websites often advise people to limit screen use in the evenings, saying that the bright blue light produced by TV, phone and tablet displays suppresses melatonin, a hormone that appears to signal to the body that it is time to rest. However, the authors of a new review said experiments had failed to find evidence of a meaningful sleep-delaying effect. ‘’If we stand back and look at all of the factors that can be harmful to our sleep, screens are overrated,’’ said Michael Gradisar, a clinical psychologist who co-wrote the paper, published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews. ‘’There’s no evidence from 11 studies conducted across the world that screen light in the hour before bed makes it harder to fall asleep.’’ The biggest effect was seen in one study carried out a decade ago, which found that screens delayed people dropping off by ten minutes. ‘’One has to ask, does ten minutes really make a difference?’’ Gradisar said. The most obvious way that screens can interfere with sleep has nothing to do with the light, he added. People simply stay up past a sensible bedtime because they are engrossed. Not all experts agree. Some believe that cutting out evening screen use is a sensible first step for those who have trouble sleeping. It is possible that blue light late at night affects some individuals more than others, especially if they have not seen natural light during the day. But Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford, who was not involved in the review, agreed that claims about blue light disrupting sleep had been overblown. ‘’There’s no evidence that the blue lights from screens have any significant impact at all,’’ he said. Likewise, he added, there is no proof blue-light filters that alter screens to show warmer tones do any good. The idea that screens could trigger insomnia stemmed from the discovery of ‘’photosensitive retinal ganglion cells’’ in the eye in the 2000s, he said. These cells are very sensitive to blue light and also help control the production of melatonin.

A group of secondary schools have said they are to ban smartphones over concerns about their impact on pupils’ learning and wellbeing. School leaders at 17 state secondaries in south London said the collective action also aimed to address the downsides of smartphone use outside the school gates. Mike Baxter, headteacher of City of London academy, said: ‘’We were prompted to collaborate after seeing first-hand the negative impact of smartphones and social media on our children’s wellbeing and education. While the issues that we had to address typically occurred outside of school hours, it was often in school that these negative behaviours were exposed.’’ Seventeen out of 20 secondary schools in Southwark have signed up to the ban. The schools will also help families to understand the well-documented risks smartphones and social media pose to young people. These include their impact on mental health, sleep and attention spans, internet addiction, access to inappropriate and graphic content, and an increased risk of thefts. Under the policy, any phone that is used by a pupil during the school day will be confiscated. If the phone is a traditional mobile, without access to wifi, it will be returned relatively quickly. Smartphones, however, may be kept for up to a week – or until parents collect them. The ban will affect more than 13,000 pupils in one of the capital’s highest performing boroughs. All the schools will veto smartphone use for children in years 7 to 9 (for 11- to 14-year-olds), but some are adopting a ‘’whole-school’’ approach. The group is in contact with local primary schools in the hope of establishing a borough-wide approach.

The Telegraph

Weight loss injections such as Ozempic cut the risk of cancer by one fifth and provide a new weapon against the disease, research has found. The drugs, known as GLP-1 agonists were found to prevent several types of cancer, including breast and bowel, in a study involving 34,000 obese adults. Patients were 19% less likely to get cancer if they were on the drugs, which scientists said worked in ‘’multiple ways’’ to stop tumours forming. Separate research shows the drugs could significantly boost survival in breast cancer patients, and reduce the risk of cancer returning. The findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (Asco) conference in Chicago, where several studies have demonstrated the ‘’enormous potential’’ of weight-loss injections to revolutionise cancer care. The new class of drugs include semaglutide, branded as Ozempic and Wegovy. They work by mimicking the hormone GLP-1 and are used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity, with recent trials showing they also reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, looked at data from 34,000 obese patients, about half of whom had been taking GLP-1 drugs including Ozempic. Part of the reduced risk is because patients lose weight. But the authors said there were other explanations, including that GLP-1 drugs reduced inflammation that can increase the risk of cancers. Data from studies in mice shows that the drugs can ‘’cause the death of cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying.’’ Research suggests the drugs could also be used alongside existing cancer treatments to boost survival rates. One study by Harvard University looked at 1,448 patients with breast cancer and type 2 diabetes, half of whom were taking GLP-1 drugs. Those on the drugs were 33% less likely to die from any cause within five years. All the patients were being treated with hormone therapies to control their disease, which often causes weight gain as a side-effect. In another study, a team at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York looked at 75 women with breast cancer who were prescribed GLP-1 drugs such as Ozempic for diabetes or obesity. The drugs led to an average weight loss of 5% in a year. Recent trials suggested semaglutide may cut heart disease deaths by 20%, prompting experts to call for it to be routinely prescribed to millions as a preventive measure. Trials also show it is an effective treatment for kidney disease. No clinical trials have yet been held in cancer patients. Obesity is the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK, responsible for more than 1 in 20 cancer cases, and is fuelling a pronounced rise in cancers among the under-50s.

Cases of syphilis are at their highest since 1948, figures show. Although most cases were diagnosed in gay and bisexual men, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the proportional rise in syphilis diagnoses was larger among heterosexual men and women. Last year 9,513 cases of infectious syphilis were diagnosed in England. There were 1,958 cases diagnosed among heterosexual men and women last year, a 22% rise from 2022. Among gay and bisexual men, cases rose by 7% to 6,527 between 2022 and 2023. Newly released statistics on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for England also show record diagnoses of gonorrhoea. Last year there were 85,223 new cases, the most since records began in 1918. Overall, figures show that 401,800 STIs were diagnosed last year, a rise of 4.7% since 2022. Chlamydia cases accounted for almost half of these, with 194,970 diagnoses last year. The UKHSA said the impact of STIs remained greatest in young people aged 15 to 24, gay men and some minority ethnic groups. The Local Government Association (LGA) said the figures showed that the next government should implement a ten-year sexual health strategy. The association represents councils which are responsible for commissioning sexual health services. It said a long-term strategy was needed to help to prevent and treat infections. David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s wellbeing board, said: ‘’Councils want to continue encouraging more people to visit their local sexual health clinic, in particular hard-to-reach communities. However, today’s (Monday) figures show sexual health services continue to face rising demand pressures. This is why we are calling for a new ten-year strategy to tackle infection rates, and ensure that sexual health services are properly funded and resourced in the long term.’’

A good education, a stimulating job and an exciting social life can all build up a ‘’cognitive reserve’’ that protects the brain from decline, but stress can undo these benefits, a study has found. Reducing stress by engaging in meditation and mindfulness exercises could therefore be an additional means of preventing the onset of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, researchers suggested. Scientists from Sweden set out to discover why ‘’some people cope better than others’’ when faced with the prospect of cognitive decline in older age. Even when early signs of Alzheimer’s are present through the build-up of protein plaques, some people experience less cognitive decline, or experience it less rapidly, than others. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Solna suggested that this was because some people have more ‘’cognitive reserve’’ than others, built up by leading lives that were mentally and physically stimulating. This reserve acts as a sort of buffer, meaning that it may take longer before the signs of cognitive decline or neurodegeneration start to impede daily life. Activities and lifestyles that support the build-up of a more robust cognitive reserve include ‘’early-life cognitive enrichment’’ and ‘’high educational attainment, complex jobs, and sustained physical, mental and social engagement’’, according to the study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. The researchers wanted to investigate whether stress had any impact on the chance of cognitive decline and whether the benefits of leading a stimulating life could be undone by stress. They hypothesised that higher stress levels may lead to ‘’reduced social interactions (and an) impaired ability to engage in leisure and physical activities’’, which may in turn affect cognitive ability. They took 113 patients, aged between 47 and 82, at a memory clinic and calculated a ‘’cognitive reserve index’’ score for each by assessing the level of their ‘’education, occupational complexity, physical and leisure activities, and social health’’. They also tested their ‘’cognitive performance’’. They then sought to measure their stress levels by two metrics – first by detecting the levels of the hormone cortisol in their saliva, and second with a questionnaire about their lives. The study found that ‘’a higher cognitive reserve score was associated with better global cognition’’, including through mental processing speed, memory and reasoning skills. They also found, however, that high stress levels ‘’reduce the beneficial influence of high cognitive reserve on cognitive performance’’. The study concluded: ‘’Stress may reduce the neurocognitive benefits accrued from cognitively stimulating and enriching life experiences.’’ The findings suggest that those who lead stimulating but stressful lives may benefit from exercises to reduce their stress levels, said Manasa Shanta Yerramalla, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute’s department of neurology, care sciences and society.

Limits should be put on how much time teenagers spend online, experts have said, as a study showed that internet addiction can cause behavioural and development changes in their brains. Research led by University College London found that these changes in the brain could mean they will struggle to maintain relationships and to socialise. Scientists said that they could also have disrupted sleep and develop irregular eating patterns. Researchers examined data from 12 studies from South Korea, China and Indonesia, where 237 people aged ten to 19 had been diagnosed with an internet addiction. Addiction can be measured by a person’s inability to resist the urge to use the internet, when doing so hampers their psychological wellbeing as well as their social, academic and professional lives. All the people in the study had brain scans to examine how the regions of the brain interacted with each other while they were resting and completing a task. The team found that several regions of the brain appeared to be affected by internet addiction, including a decrease in active thinking. Academics have said these changes can be linked to addictive behaviours as well as changes associated with intellectual ability, physical co-ordination, mental health and development. Published in the PLOS Mental Health, the authors said: ‘’Given the influx of technology and media in the lives and education of children and adolescents, an increase in prevalence and focus on internet-related behavioural changes is imperative towards future children/adolescent mental health.’’

Many women report feeling tired and sluggish during their period but a study has found that mental ‘’agility’’ and reaction times actually improve while menstruating. Previous studies of female athletes have found that 87% of women footballers reported feeling less strong and more fatigued during their period. Research also found that players were six times more likely to suffer a muscle injury in the six days before their period than during the period itself. Scientists at University College London set out to examine how reaction times  and ‘’mental agility’’ were affected at different points during a woman’s cycle. The study assessed ‘’sport-related cognition’’ by taking 241 people, including 105 menstruating women, and subjecting them to a range of cognitive tests. The study was published in the journal Neuropsychologia. The researchers found no difference in accuracy and reaction times among men or among women using contraception, but found that the menstruating women felt worse but performed best while on their periods. Reaction times were slowest – 10 to 20 milliseconds slower – during the luteal phase, which begins at ovulation and lasts for 12 to 14 days until the start of menstruation. This is also when muscle injuries are most common.

The Times

Hundreds of breast cancer patients are having their lives cut short  because the NHS in England is failing to provide a blockbuster drug, research has shown, revealing that it boosts survival time by a third. Enhertu extends lives by six months on average for women with a type of incurable breast cancer, However, medical regulations in England are refusing to approve it for these patients, claiming it is too expensive, despite it being available in Scotland and 15 other countries. New trial results, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual conference in Chicago, have reinforced the drug’s life-extending benefits, prompting charities to say it is ‘’utterly unacceptable’’ for the NHS to block access. The trial involved 866 women with a type of breast cancer, known as HER2-low, that had spread to other parts of the body. Half were given Enhertu, while the remainder got the standard treatment of chemotherapy. Dr Guiseppe Curigliano from the University of Milan, the author of the latest findings, said the drug meant people ‘’lived longer without their disease progressing or causing death’’. He added that even more patients could benefit than previously thought, with survival also dramatically boosted among patients with a different cancer subtype called HER2-ultralow. The findings were published after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) rejected the drug for use in England in March on cost grounds, under new criteria which do not class all terminal cancers as ‘’severe’’. There are about 1,000 patients in England who would be eligible each year. Charities said this had created an ‘’ insufferable postcode lottery’’, where NHS patients in Scotland can receive the drug while their peers in England face dying months earlier. A petition by Breast Cancer Now has more than 260,000 signatures calling for the drug to be made available. Enhertu, the brand name for trastuzumab deruxtecan, has been developed by AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo. It is one of a new breed of cancer drugs known as antibody-drug conjugates, made up of artificial antibodies which hunt down cancer cells to develop chemotherapy directly to the tumour. Because they do not kill healthy cells they can be given in much higher doses than traditional chemotherapy, with fewer side effects. The drug costs about £10,000 a month in the US, although the NHS has been offered a discount. It is available on the NHS for patients with some types of breast cancer, but not those with HER2-low subtype. Dr Simon Vincent, director of research, support and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘’This promising study suggests even more people could potentially benefit from Enhertu. Yet, despite this mounting clinical data emerging around the clear benefit Enhertu could bring patients, thousands of people with HER2-low secondary breast cancer are being denied access on the NHS in England, and this is utterly unacceptable. These people are desperately counting on Nice, NHS England, Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca to find a solution in their current talks and to urgently make this treatment available for them.’’ When the medical regulator Nice rejected the drug in March it said the cost the NHS was being asked to pay was ‘’too high’’ in relation to its benefits. A spokesman for Nice said: ‘’We are extremely disappointed not to be able to recommend Enhertu for use in the NHS for advanced HER2-low breast cancer. A price making it a cost-effective use of NHS resources being offered by Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca could resolve this issue almost immediately. Further discussions with all relevant parties are continuing.’’

A cancer vaccine being trialled in the UK has been found to halve the risk of dying from melanoma, providing the clearest evidence yet this new class of treatment can transform survival rates. The clinical trial involved 157 patients with melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Half were given a new personalised vaccine in combination with immunotherapy, while the remainder received only immunotherapy. Over a three-year period, the cancer vaccine was found to cut the risk of death or of the cancer returning by 49%. The findings were presented yesterday (Monday) at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago. Experts said they fully expected the ‘’extremely impressive’’  results to be replicated in trials of cancer vaccines on other types of tumour, including breast and bowel. Last week the NHS announced it had launched a ‘’Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad’’ which will enable thousands of patients to take part in clinical trials for personalised cancer vaccines. Multiple cancer vaccines are being developed but the melanoma vaccine by Moderna is furthest along in clinical trials. This makes the vaccine, called mRNA-4157, the frontrunner to become the first to be approved. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread around the body. It affects 16,700 people each year in the UK, killing 2,300. The main symptom is a new or changing mole. The melanoma vaccine is already being tested on patients in the UK as part of a larger phase 3 clinical trial. The vaccines are customised for each patient and train the immune system to recognise the unique mutations on tumours and then hunt down the cancer cells. They are injected into the arm of melanoma patients after surgery. Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said the melanoma trial results ‘’show positive signs of the mRNA vaccine’s long-lasting effectiveness’’. He added: ‘’The findings highlight the great promise of therapeutic cancer vaccines used in combination with powerful immunotherapies. Trials in the UK are also investigating similar vaccine technology for use in colorectal cancer after surgery.’’ Multiple studies are being presented at the conference of promising trials for vaccines against breast, bowel, skin and lung cancer, with scientists hopeful that the technology will provide a new weapon against the disease.

Airlines should consider restricting alcohol on long-haul flights to cut the chances of passengers suffering heart problems, academics say. A study has found that the combination of the in-flight alcohol and cabin pressure at cruising altitude may put strain on sleeping passengers’ hearts. The problem of excess drinking has been addressed at the International Air Transport Association’s general conference in Dubai. Airline executives have been speaking to airports about ways to deter passengers from boarding planes while drunk. The study, published in the journal Thorax, found that the combination of in-flight alcohol and cabin pressure appears to lower blood oxygen and increase heart rate, even among younger adults. ‘’The on-board consumption of alcohol is an underestimated health risk that could be easily avoided,’’ academics from the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Germany said. ‘’It may be beneficial to consider altering regulations to restrict the access to alcoholic beverages on board aeroplanes,’’ they added. The researchers pointed out that heart and circulatory problems account for 7% of in-flight medical emergencies, with cardiac arrests causing 58% of all plane diversions. They added that being in a hypobaric environment – where there is low air pressure – is known to decrease oxygen levels in the blood and increase heart rate. According to the researchers, air passengers with heart problems have an increased risk of aggravation of symptoms because of the decreased cabin pressure at cruising altitude, which is amplified during sleep. Alcohol had similar effects, they said. As a result, they sought to test the impact of alcohol consumption and sleep in a hypobaric environment. The researchers assessed 48 people aged between 18 and 40. They spent either two nights in a sleep laboratory or an altitude chamber, which recreates the altitude of a cruising aeroplane. Before one of the nights the people drank alcohol. Researchers conducted sleep study tests and monitored participants’ heart rate and blood oxygen levels. They found that the combination of alcohol and experiencing low oxygen concentration at high altitudes reduced sleep quality, ‘’challenged the cardiovascular system’’ and led to extended duration of low oxygen levels. The authors concluded: ‘’Together these results indicate that even in young and healthy individuals, the combination of alcohol intake with sleeping under hypobaric conditions poses a considerable strain on the cardiac system and might lead to exacerbation of symptoms in patients with cardiac or pulmonary diseases.’’ In 2017 Ryanair called on UK airports to take ‘’necessary measures’’ to prevent excessive alcohol consumption, after increased disruptive behaviour from passengers. The Civil Aviation Authority reported a 600% increase in disruptive passenger incidents in the UK between 2012 and 2016, with most involving alcohol. Ryanair urged banning the sale of all alcohol in bars and restaurants before 10am. It also called for the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants to passengers to be controlled during flight delays by limiting the number of drinks per boarding pass to two.

Private gender clinics are consulting lawyers over the government’s decision to ban new prescriptions of puberty blockers for transgender children. Doctors could be struck off if they prescribe puberty blockers to children after an ‘’emergency ban’’ on the drugs came into force yesterday (Monday). The Department of Health has published legislation to close a loophole that allows under-18s to get the drugs via private clinics, after they were banned for NHS use in March. The law will be in force until September 3 and make it illegal for any new prescriptions for the hormone-suppressing drugs to be issued to children in the UK. The initial ‘’emergency’’ restrictions cover only a three-month period but are likely to be extended beyond September by the next government. Dr Aidan Kelly, director at Gender Plus, a Care Quality Commission-registered gender identity clinic serving young people and adults, called the government’s decision ‘’one of their last desperate acts in power’’. He said Gender Plus was consulting its legal team about how best to support transgender people and ‘’hold the government accountable for this blatant act of discrimination’’. On the clinic’s website, Kelly said: ‘’The law removes vital, proven care from those who need it, seemingly without consideration for the longer-term impact this will leave. This is clearly an attempt to score political points in the run-up to the general election at the cost of a tiny and vulnerable section of our society – transgender youth. The move will undoubtedly cause fear and distress for these young people and their families, which contradicts the government’s stated intention for this ban, that of addressing risk to patient safety. It is important to note that this medication has only been banned for transgender patients, it will continue to be prescribed safely and without concern for those who are not trans. The wellbeing of transgender people is at risk while the current government remains in power.’’ Gender Plus is one of a number of private gender clinics in the UK treating young adults with gender dysphoria. A Singapore-registered private clinic, GenderGP, was criticised last month at the High Court for prescribing ‘’dangerously high’’ levels of hormones to a teenager, which could have resulted in their sudden death. Its founder, Dr Helen Webberley, said she was also shocked at the ban on puberty blockers. She said on Twitter/X: ‘’ This has the potential to cause exceptional harm and those who are responsible must know that they are accountable for any harm that results. I will be working to provide solutions, knowledge and information to parents, families and children to help keep themselves safe.’’

Almost £7 billion was wiped off the market value of GSK after the pharmaceutical giant suffered a significant setback in its costly legal battle over Zantac. After markets closed on Friday night (31/05), an American state court ruled that experts could testify on behalf of just under 70,000 plaintiffs who claim that the heartburn treatment gave them cancer. The FTSE 100 group has said that it disagrees with the Delaware state court’s decision and will immediately seek an appeal. The company had tried to get the claimants’ experts and evidence thrown out on the grounds that it was not scientifically robust, which would effectively have stopped the cases in their tracks. The Delaware proceedings are still at an early stage and no date has been set for trial. GSK said: ‘’Scientific consensus is that there is no consistent or reliable evidence that ranitidine (marketed as Zantac) increases the risk of any cancer and GSK will continue to vigorously defend itself against all claims.’’ It comes a week after a state court in Illinois sided with GSK and found that it was not liable for a claimant’s cancer – the first case involving the company to go before a jury. A second case that had been due to be heard at the end of last month was also dismissed. A previous decision in Florida in 2022 dismissed about 50,000 cases at a pre-trial hearing, giving GSK’s defence a boost. Ranitidine helped to fund GSK’s global expansion and became one of the first prescription blockbusters, generating more than $1 billion in annual sales. The drug reduces the amount of acid produced by cells in the lining of the stomach and was a popular treatment for heartburn. It was released as a prescription drug by GSK in the 1980s before the rights to the over-the-counter product in America were sold to other drug companies. GSK suspended all dose forms of Zantac to all markets pending tests and investigations after being contacted by regulators, and in 2020 the US Food and Drug Administration asked makers of all versions to withdraw products from the market.

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