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Drugs for children weighed

FDA considers medications for psychiatric care

By Matthew Perrone
Associated Press / June 6, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Three blockbuster psychiatric drugs approved for adults also appear to work in adolescents, though federal health officials have concerns about exposing younger patients to the drugs' side effects.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing drugs from AstraZeneca PLC, Eli Lilly & Co., and Pfizer Inc. for use in patients between ages of 10 17. The drugs - already approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar mania in adults - had combined sales of more than $7.4 billion last year, according to IMS Health.

With only two anti-psychotic drugs currently approved for younger patients, a positive decision for the three drugs would significantly increase competition in the space - and expand sales of products that already are big sellers.

Anti-psychotic drugs were the top-selling group of prescription medications in the United States last year with sales of $14.6 billion, according to the healthcare analysis firm.

The FDA released its review of the three drugs ahead of a meeting Tuesday where outside experts will weigh in on the drugs' risks and benefits.

The agency is not required to follow the group's advice, though it usually does.

FDA reviewers said yesterday that they were wary of exposing youngsters to the drugs' side effects, including weight gain and high blood sugar, "because they may be exposed for many decades."

"These risks are of particular concern in pediatric patients because of the lifelong nature of these disorders," FDA director for psychiatric products, Dr. Thomas Laughren, wrote in documents posted online.

Many doctors already prescribe the medications to children and adolescents, although regulators have not officially cleared that use.

Physicians are free to prescribe medicines as they see fit, though companies can only promote them for FDA-approved indications.

AstraZeneca and Lilly are seeking permission to market their drugs for adolescents with schizophrenia and bipolar mania, also called manic depressive disorder.

Pfizer is seeking a pediatric bipolar disorder indication for its drug.

FDA drug reviewers noted that the "safety profile of the pediatric population is very similar compared to that of the adult population."

And while there were no side effects unique to younger patients, there were differences in the frequency of the effects compared with adults.

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