A new breakthrough for kidney patients

December 9, 2008 7:17:41 PM PST
A new drug undergoing clinical trial is providing an energy boost for thousands of dialysis patients around the Bay Area. But at the same time, the company that makes it is taking steps to make sure it doesn't provide a similar boost to some professional athletes.

There would seem to be little to link riders in the Tour de France to kidney patients undergoing dialysis in the Bay Area -- except maybe the amount of oxygen in their blood.

"The issue is the same we want to increase capacity to function and to do that we need oxygen. Oxygen molecules are carried in blood stream and are built in the bone marrow, and the more you have, the better you seem to function," said Dr. Brigitte Schiller.

In the case of these kidney patients, the problem is not enough oxygen, or anemia.

Dr. Schiller is leading a phase-three clinical trial of a new drug called Hematide. It's a synthetic compound that promises to combat anemia with a single dose administered just once a month.

"If you don't get drug that corrects your anemia, you feel lousy, extremely tired. It gives you a boost, makes you feel really good," said

Ironically, it was a drug designed for the same purpose, made overseas, that was at the center of a recent scandal at the Tour de France when a number of riders were accused of taking it to boost their endurance.

The concerns were serious enough that the European manufacture helped race officials develop a test to detect the drug.

And even though Hematide isn't on the market yet, company officials at Affymax in Palo Alto say they've actually had conversations with anti-doping agencies, to prevent its misuse.

"We've started working with WADA which is the organization that looks at doping and people that people who take illegal drugs. We do want to make sure that our drug stays in legitimate channels," said Affymax CEO Arlene Morris.

In the meantime, Hematide is being administered to during dialysis to patients like Debbie Parsons who had an adverse reaction to older anti-anemia drugs.

"I took 1,500 units three times a week which was minimum doce because I was allergic to it, it didn't work for me," said Parsons.

And so far, she says the new drug is completely effective, even if it never turns her into a threat to riders like Lance Armstrong.

"I suppose if I could ride a bike like him I'd have it made," said Parsons.

For more information about the trial and who is eligible to participate, patients can contact the site coordinator Kim Hernandez at (650) 404-3623.


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