Nicotine patch supply catches up to demandRemember the...

LIFE SCIENCES

September 01, 1992|By Liz Bowie

Nicotine patch supply catches up to demand

Remember the shortage of nicotine patches that sent hundreds of would-be quitters into a tizzy? Well, Ciba-Geigy Corp. and Marion Merrell Dow Inc. say they believe they now have enough patches in stores to satisfy every smoker who wants help to stop.

That will make Terry Bacon happy. The Parkville woman started using the nicotine patches twice last spring, but had to go cold turkey when her local drugstores were inundated with orders.

"I was so angry, because I really thought I had a savior," she said. Despite her residual anger at the pharmaceutical companies, she says she will give it another shot.

Left grinning is Ciba-Geigy, which has made $375 million since its Habitrol patch went on the market in December.

The patches aren't cheap, at about $3.50 a day, but Ciba-Geigy's public relations spokesman says that's inexpensive compared with cigarettes, which cost $2 to $2.25 a pack.

Marion Merrell Dow says it has sold more than $150 million worth of its Nicoderm patches since December. "We are just now getting to the point where our supply is catching up with the demand," said spokesman Dick Johnson. The company expects to resume promoting its product soon.

The prescription patch, designed to be used for three months, slowly releases nicotine into the bloodstream over a 24-hour-period to help patients get through withdrawal. Freezing body parts isn't new. The surgical technique started 5,000 years ago when ice was used as an anesthetic. But Cryomedical Sciences Inc. of Rockville has taken it a little farther with a new device it began marketing this year called AccuProbe.

The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh are using the instrument to freeze prostate tumors.

The biotechnology company got high praise from M.D. Anderson last week when doctors said the technique offers prostate cancer patients "the opportunity to completely eradicate their cancer."

While the praise seemed unusually glowing for a medical center, Catherine A. Burch, a spokeswoman said, "We are trying to promote the therapy, not the company. . . . The doctors are extremely excited about this."

At M.D. Anderson the technique is being used for prostate cancer patients whose tumors have returned after radiation, said Dr. Richard Babaian, professor of urology. Before the new treatment, the choices available to those patients were limited and the outlook often bleak, he said. Each year 34,000 men in the United States die of prostate cancer.

The center has treated five patients and will treat five more in the next week. At Allegheny General, the technique has been used on more than 100 patients, including those in the early stage of the disease.

Using ultrasound imaging as a guide, the surgeon inserts a needle in the tumor, then freezes it to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit in about 15 minutes.

"You get the formation of an ice ball . . . you can watch [it] on ultrasound," Dr. Babaian said. The frozen tumor gradually dissolves in the body.

The patient can leave the hospital with 48 hours.

HealthPlus ads sing the 'Blues'

Seen on the back of a Baltimore MTA bus: "Time to lose the health care Blues. HealthPlus, confidence in health care."

Is it coincidence? HealthPlus Inc., a Greenbelt-based health maintenance organization, has launched an advertising campaign just as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland Inc. comes under the scrutiny of federal investigators for its financial and management practices. The Blues is a nickname for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance company.

"It is more tongue in cheek than a direct assault," said Christopher Doherty, marketing manager for HealthPlus. The campaign's wording has been used in other states by other health maintenance organizations, he said.

Mr. Doherty said the campaign was planned in April and that the blues is a reference to the "general anxiety" people in the Baltimore-Washington area feel about their "health care choices." However, in the advertising campaign the "Blues" is capitalized as it would be in reference to the insurance company.

HealthPlus says it has 200,000 members in its plans in the Baltimore-Washington area. It ranks third in membership behind Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program and Prudential Health Care Plan Inc., Mr. Doherty said.

Hopkins University replaces Cohon

Theodore O. Poehler, associate dean for research at Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering, has been named the university's vice provost for research.

He will replace Jared Cohon, who left to take a post at Yale University. He was respected by the business community.

Dr. Poehler will assume primary responsibility for promoting the commercialization of Johns Hopkins-based research and will be the school's link with the business community.

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