Expert warns over cut in research into crippling bone diseases

THOUSANDS of patients with crippling bone diseases could be condemned to a life of pain because of an alarming decrease in research funding by major pharmaceutical companies, an expert has warned.

Osteoporosis, thinning of the bones due to calcium loss, affects about one in two women and one out of five men over 50.

But Professor Miep Helfrich, head of the Bone Cell Biology centre at Aberdeen University, said drugs companies were pulling back from vital studies into the cause and treatment of osteoporosis and other bone conditions in the mistaken belief that they had already been beaten by medical science.

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Prof Helfrich was speaking in advance of the European Calcified Tissue Society's annual conference in Glasgow today, at which some 2,000 scientists and clinicians from across Europe will gather to discuss the latest research on bone disease across the globe.

Mr Helfrich said: "Many big pharmaceutical companies are now withdrawing their bone research and development funding as they feel that the bone disease field is 'sorted'; that we have all the drugs needed.

"But there are others who say that better drugs can still be developed, given that many of the bone diseases are chronic, progressive and age-related.

"Patients may be on treatments for decades and the safety profiles of the current drugs over such long periods are not known and some worrying side-effects are becoming apparent."

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects mainly older people and especially women after the menopause. It is a gradual thinning of the bones to the point where they fracture more easily. The most serious of the fractures is that of the hip, which is in fact a fracture of the thigh bone.

The cost to the health service of treating the disease is estimated at 2.3 billion per year in the UK alone.