Consumer Health Digest #07-22

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 12, 2007

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Shark cartilage fails major trial. A pharmaceutical quality shark-cartilage extract (Neovastat) has shown no benefit as part of a regimen for advanced lung cancer. The study enrolled 384 newly-diagnosed untreated Stage III non-small cell lung cancer patients at 53 sites in the United States and Canada from June 2000 to February 2006. The study was initiated at the request of, and was supported by, the National Cancer Institute, which sought proposals from drug companies. The participants received the standard induction chemotherapy and chemo-radiation plus either shark cartilage or a placebo which was continued as "maintenance" therapy. With a median follow-up of 3.7 years, the researchers found no significant difference in median survival between the shark cartilage (14.4 months) and placebo (15.6 months) groups. The drug company, Aeterna Zentaris, announced earlier this year that it had abandoned clinical development of the product. [Shark cartilage shows no benefit as a therapeutic agent for lung cancer. News release, M.D. Anderson Hospital news release, June 2, 2007]

FTC curbs "HGH" spray sellers.Two operations that marketed oral sprays claimed to help users lose weight, reverse the aging process, and prevent or treat diseases have settled FTC charges that their claims were bogus. The FTC alleged that these businesses falsely claimed the sprays were a “fountain of youth,” containing or causing the body to produce human growth hormone (HGH). Under a consent judgment, both operators are prohibited from making false claims. Lei Lu and his companies, Natural Health Product, Inc. and New Star Marketing Group, Inc., are required to pay $172,500 for consumer injury. The rest of their $2,218,261 monetary judgment is suspended based on alleged inability to pay. John A. Brackett, Jr. and his company, Pacific Herbal Sciences, Inc., were also prohibited from sending spam, but a $762,000 monetary judgment was suspended based on their financial disclosures. If either of the parties is found to have lied about their financial status, they will be liable for the full judgment amount. [Internet marketers of supposed human growth hormone sprays pay $172,500. FTC news release, May 29, 2007]

Medicare fraud strike force generates 34 arrests. Thirty-eight people have been arrested in the first phase of a targeted effort against Florida-based individuals and companies that fraudulently billed the Medicare program. The charges include conspiracy to defraud, criminal false claims, and violations of anti-kickback statutes. The arrests resulted from real-time analysis of Medicare billing data by a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators. Since March 1, 2007 the strike force has obtained indictments of individuals and organizations that have collectively billed for more than $142 million for improperly prescribed drugs and other procedures. If convicted, many of the defendants face up to 20 years in prison. [Strike force formed to target fraudulent billing of Medicare program by health care companies. USDOJ news release, May 9, 2007]

Note: Consumer Health Digest was not published during the previous two weeks because Dr. Barrett was in the process of moving to North Carolina. New contact information will be posted to Quackwatch within the next few days.

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This page was posted on June 13, 2007.