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Inhaler Linked To Asthma Deaths

Four out of five . Asthma-related deaths per year, in the US were linked to asthma inhalers containing the drugs salmeterol or formoterol //. According to researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities, these drugs should be taken off the market .

They base these conclusions on a statistical analysis of 19 published trials involving 33,826 patients. This so-called meta-analysis found that patients who inhaled the long-acting beta-agonists salmeterol (trade names Serevent and Advair, both made by GlaxoSmithKline) or formoterol (trade name Foradil, made by Novartis Pharmaceuticals) were 3.5 times more likely to die from asthma and 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalized (whether or not death resulted), compared with those taking a placebo.

The reason, say the researchers, is because although these medications relieve asthma symptoms, they also promote bronchial inflammation and sensitivity without warning. Nevertheless, asthma death is relatively rare -- 15 patients in the meta-analysis who were taking the beta-agonists died, compared with three in the placebo group, over a six-month period.

"In total, there are about 5,000 deaths a year due to asthma, whether or not a person is taking a long-acting beta-agonist," said Edwin Salpeter, the J.G. White Distinguished Professor of Physical Sciences Emeritus at Cornell, who led the statistical analysis in the study. An eminent astrophysicist, Salpeter has more recently focused his attention on medical statistics. "We can show that overall it is statistically significant that, compared to patients taking a placebo, these long-acting beta-agonists kill a lot of people," he said.

"These asthma deaths are generally in healthy young adults," said his daughter, Shelley Salpeter, the lead author of the paper appearing online and in the June 20 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. She is a clinical professor of medicine at Stanford's School of Medicine and a physician at Santa Clara
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