Biophosphonates (BPs) are common treatments for osteoporosis and metastatic bone cancer. They help to prevent bone loss. Unfortunately, these drugs can have serious side effects. One of the most severe is called osteonecrosis. Osteonecrosis causes inflammation which eventually leads to bone loss specifically in the jaw. It’s extremely painful. While rare (especially with low doses of BPs), osteonecrosis is very serious and sadly has yet to have a preventative therapy or a cure.
But even worse than this condition itself, is the fact that its deterring patients who need BP treatment from receiving the care they need.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation has estimated the incidence of the side effect in patients taking BPs. This number is somewhere between 1 in 10,000-100,000 patients each year. That said, BPs are typically given in a higher dose when treating bone cancer. The risk of osteonecrosis in these patients is approximately 3%.
However, the fear of osteonecrosis is real among both of these patient populations. Researchers believe that a recent increased rate of hip fractures in the elderly following a period of time where this rate was decreasing, has been sparked by BP aversion.
Thanks to a grant from the NIH to BioVinc, researchers from UCLA and USC conducted a study in mice using a new experimental treatment they believe could effectively reduce osteonecrosis risk. Basically, they used an inactive BP compound and injected it directly into the jaw. This compound, which they called “rescue BP” pushed the active BP out of the jaw without affecting its presence elsewhere in the body. The body’s natural healing process was then able to supplement this treatment.
While the research team says that this technique isn’t quite ready for human use, they are extremely excited about its prospect.
The findings from this study were published in the journal Bone.
You can read more about this study here.