The osteoporosis drug Forteo, which is made by Eli Lilly & Co., may be an effective treatment for jaw osteonecrosis caused by Fosamax, a different osteoporosis drug made by Merck & Co., according to researchers.
Two new articles published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that Forteo (teriparatide) may combat osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ) and other fractures caused by bisphosphonate medications, such as Fosamax.
One article details the collected data on how Forteo has been seen to stimulate bone growth in patients suffering from bone problems and its potential in fighting ONJ. The other article details how Forteo was used specifically to reverse the effects of ONJ from Fosamax in an 88-year-old woman in a matter of weeks.
Jaw osteonecrosis is a rare bone disorder that causes the decay and death of the jaw bone. It can result in painful disfigurement, with portions of bone becoming exposed. In some cases, parts of the jaw must be surgically removed. Long-term use of Fosamax and other bisphosphonates, which are used to treat osteoporosis, have been identified as a contributing factor for the debilitating jaw damage.
Researchers say that more studies need to be conducted to determine whether Forteo could be a cure for ONJ and for thigh bone fractures associated with Fosamax side effects, but conducting such a study could be difficult because there are so few people who actually have the disorders. However, what doctors have seen has been promising. Doctor Ego Seeman and Ada Cheung, of Austin Health in Melbourne, Australia, reported that they used Forteo to treat an 88-year-old woman who had been suffering from ONJ for the last year after taking Fosamax for a hip fracture for 10 years. They found that Forteo appeared to not only end her jaw pain, but repaired the damage Fosamax ONJ had done to her jaw in only eight weeks.
Fosamax (alendronate sodium), is a member of a class of drugs known as bisphosphonates, which is prescribed for treatment of osteoporosis. Fosamax was approved by FDA in October 1995, and has been used by more than 20 million people. The drug generated over $3 billion in annual sales for Merck before it became available as a generic last year.
Merck currently faces about 1,000 Fosamax lawsuits over their failure to adequately warn consumers and the medical community about the risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw, which prevented many doctors from taking preventative actions that could have reduced the risk of aggravating the Fosamax dental injury. The first lawsuits were filed in about 2006.