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This Reformulated Drug Could Save Thousands Of New Mothers' Lives

Jun 28, 2018 08:48 AM EDT
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Childbirth
Post-partum hemorrhage accounts for so many deaths every year, especially in developing countries. A new drug is expected to be the solution.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Heat-stable and effective, a new drug called carbetocin is envisioned to save the lives of thousands of new mothers suffering from post-partum bleeding.

The World Health Organization has been testing the drug for years in hopes of addressing the alarmingly high rates of maternal deaths due to blood loss. Now, the organization is saying that it's found to be just as effective as existing treatment and much more capable of withstanding a range of conditions.

Mothers Dying Without Medicine

Childbirth is dangerous, but the aftermath can also be risky. Post-partum hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal death with 661,000 deaths in the world between 2003 and 2009.

The worst part is that the medicine already exists for post-partum hemorrhage: the hormone oxytocin. However, oxytocin is ultra-sensitive to heat and needs to be kept in the cold constantly. Many developing countries are incapable of storing and transporting it at the proper temperatures.

"This is huge, huge problem," Dr. Jeffrey Smith, an OB-GYN at nonprofit organization Jhpiego, explains. "In many clinics around the world, oxytocin will be sitting on the shelf, ready to be used, but health workers don't know which vials have lost their potency."

In a new report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, WHO reveals they found an effective alternative to oxytocin. Carbetocin works as well as oxytocin when it comes to stopping postpartum bleeding, but it can withstand heat for a long time.

The New Solution

In 2013, Merck for Mothers and Ferring Pharmaceuticals approached WHO to develop the heat-stable carbetocin in hopes of addressing the massive number of lives lost to post-partum hemorrhage every year.

Upon the drug's development, WHO conducted trials all over the world and tested almost 30,000 women in 10 different countries including Argentina, Egypt, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. The testing took place from July 2015 to January 2018.

Half of the participants were given a shot of oxytocin after a vaginal birth, while the other half were given a shot of carbetocin. Amazingly, the two groups had nearly identical results.

In both groups, around 14.5 percent of women lost at least half a liter of blood after their delivery. The percentage of women who lost more than a liter of blood was also similar in the groups: 1.45 percent of the oxytocin group and 1.51 percent of the carbetocin group.

The positive results of testing are cause for celebration in the medical community worldwide.

"This is a truly encouraging new development that can revolutionize our ability to keep mothers and babies alive," says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO.

While it's too early to know the exact price of the drug, Ferring Pharmaceuticals has agreed to keep the costs of the drug affordable to adequately serve low and middle-income countries it was designed for.

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