Roundup: Anemia drugs under assault, stem-cell trial moves forward, medical interventions and poor "quality of death," and more

Is the bell tolling for EPO? — The news keeps going from bad to worse for the wonder drugs of biotech — the anemia treatments known as ESAs or EPO, shorthand for “erythropoiesis stimulating agents” and “erythropoietin,” respectively. Earlier today, an FDA advisory panel recommended new warnings for the drugs, which stimulate the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, as well as fresh clinical studies on their safety. Recent studies in kidney-dialysis patients linked higher doses of ESAs to heart problems and strokes, while studies in cancer patients treated for chemotherapy-related anemia have suggested that the treatments don’t improve patient survival, and may even cut lives short — possibly by encouraging tumor growth.

How drug reps do that thing they do

Two fascinating papers in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine turn a spotlight on the practice of “detailing” — the office visits that drug-industry salespeople use to flatter and manipulate their way into the good graces of the doctors they want to influence.

Health and science roundup: Amgen, generic biologics, the origins of white people and more

Amgen’s anemia rollercoaster — Biotechnology titan Amgen may have dodged a bullet when a study released Thursday showed that its anemia drug Aranesp didn’t shorten the lives of patients, after several other studies had suggested the opposite. But its anemia franchise isn’t out of the woods yet. A Wednesday report in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that for-profit dialysis clinics prescribe far higher doses of anemia drugs to their patients than do their non-profit counterparts, suggesting a profit motive behind the overuse of drugs that have been linked to cardiovascular problems at high doses.