PARACETAMOL (acetaminophen) is an effective painkiller but a risky one, making it the leading cause of acute liver damage in the US. Now there are two ways it could get a whole lot safer. A US Food and Drug Administration panel wants to slash the recommended dosage. And a safer alternative can be made cheaply for the first time.
When used as directed paracetamol is safe, but it doesn’t take much more than the recommended dose to cause permanent, possibly fatal, liver damage. Among over-the-counter drugs, “it probably has the smallest difference between how much it takes to be effective and how much it takes to cause
damage”, says Sidney Wolfe of the watchdog group Public Citizen in Washington DC. Because paracetamol is an ingredient of numerous preparations, from
No pain, no danger cold medicines to prescription narcotics such as Vicodin, it’s easy to double-dose by mistake.
Last month the FDA’s advisory panel recommended specifying smaller doses of paracetamol and clearer labelling of medications that contain it. More controversially, the panel recommended removing it entirely from prescription narcotics. The FDA usually follows its panel’s recommendations.
A more comprehensive solution may be on the horizon, in the form of drugs such as SCP-1 , which is made up of a molecule of paracetamol joined to a saccharin molecule. In early tests in people SCP-1 does not seem to produce the same toxic by-products as paracetamol. Now Mark Trudell and colleagues at the University of New Orleans, Louisiana, together with the New Orleans company St Charles Pharmaceuticals , which ran the tests, have reported a way to synthesise SCP-1 cheaply and in large quantities (Organic Process
Research and Development, DOI: 10.1021/op900113b).
“At this point, we’re pretty much ready to go,” says Trudell.
MOVES by the US to push through a swine flu vaccine by September could halve the number of doses available there at the start of its winter flu season.
The World Health Organization estimates that by August global production of the vaccine will reach 94.5 million doses per week (Vaccine, DOI: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2009.06.034). But this estimate relies on all companies using formulations with potent adjuvants – additives to the
vaccine that boost the immune response and reduce the amount of virus needed in each dose.
However, the adjuvants have not been approved for use in the US, and there is no time for new testing. Last week the US National Biodefense Science Board advised that to make vaccine available quickly the US should stick to the well-tested formulation of the seasonal flu vaccine.
The WHO warns that if adjuvant vaccines are not “fully used” this will reduce by 40 to 50 per cent the number of doses made per week.
–Pretty much like its neighbours–
Woods lose biodiversitySOME English woodland is losing
biodiversity , even though most
individual woods contain just as
many species as before.
Comparing the plants in the
woods of Dorset, in south-west
England, with plants in the same
woods 70 years ago, Sally Keith
of nearby Bournemouth University
and her colleagues found that they
are suffering from “taxonomic
Keith visited 65 woods that had
been surveyed in detail during the
1930s, plus another 21 woods
adjacent to sites that had been
wooded 70 years ago. She found
that, on average, individual woods
contained the same number of plant
species as before – usually about
50 – but the woods have become less
distinctive and more alike.
Woods with the most species in
the 1930s contain fewer today, while
those with the least then now contain
more, she says. And across all the
woods surveyed, 117 plant species
have disappeared and only 47 new
ones have arrived. Nobody had
noticed this new facet of biodiversity
loss in the UK before, says Keith
(Proceedings of the Royal Society B,
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0938 ).
What is behind this
homogenisation? Keith says familiar
eco-villains such as climate change
and alien species are not to blame.
She believes nitrogen fertiliser
run-off, air pollution and reduced
wood clearance, resulting in fewer
clearings where distinctive species
can prosper, are behind the change.
“The molecule does not seem to produce the same toxic by-products as paracetamol”