Drugs may bring a new option for menopausal women

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  Last updated March 15, 2018 at 1:23 pm

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A new class of experimental drugs has been shown to significantly reduce the number and severity of hot flushes in menopausal women.


Credit: iStock


The new treatment raises hopes that it could be a much-needed alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).


New in-depth analysis of data collected from a clinical trial last year shows that the drug known as MLE4901 had a significant impact – and much more quickly than first thought.


And as an added bonus, participants’ sleep and concentration also improved.


“We already knew this compound could … get rid of three-quarters of their hot flushes in four weeks, but this new analysis confirms the beneficial effect is obtained very quickly – within just three days,” said Professor Waljit Dhillo, from Imperial College London.


This specific compound will not be taken further in trials, due to side effects that may affect liver function, but two very similar drugs, which operate in much the same way but do not appear to carry these side effects, have entered larger patient trials. One was launched in the US last year.


Drugs blocks brain chemical


The new experimental compounds are thought to work by blocking the action of the brain chemical neurokinin B (NKB). Previous animal and human trials have suggested that increased levels of NKB may trigger hot flushes. The drug compound is thought to prevent NKB activating temperature control areas within the brain.


The original trial, which was a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, involved 37 menopausal women aged between 40 and 62 years old who experienced seven or more hot flushes a day.


The new data reveals that the drug was as effective at improving daytime flush symptoms as it was at improving night time symptoms. Furthermore, the women reported a 82 per cent decrease in the amount their hot flushes interrupted their sleep, and a 77 per cent reduction in interruption to their concentration.


However, further research is needed to clarify whether these improvements were simply due to less disruption from hot flushes, or if the compound also affected sleep and concentration pathways in the brain.


“As NKB has many targets of action within the brain the potential for this drug class to really improve many of the symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, and poor concentration, is huge,” said the study’s first author, Dr Julia Prague.


“To see the lives of our participants change so dramatically and so quickly was so exciting, and suggests great promise for the future of this new type of treatment.”


The hope is these types of compounds may provide an alternative to HRT, the current treatment for symptoms of the menopause. Many women cannot take HRT because it contains oestrogen, which may increase the relative risk of breast cancer and can increase the risk of blood clots..


The paper published in Menopause.


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About the Author

Nick Carne
Nick Carne is an Adelaide-based freelance writer who has worked as a reporter, editor and producer for print, electronic and online media and in a range of corporate and government communications roles. He collaborated closely with academics on university campuses for more than a decade and lived to tell the tale.