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New Osteoporosis Drug Offers Stronger Bones with Fewer Side Effects

By Dustin Cotliar

We’ve all heard this unfortunate story—an elderly person falls and breaks their hip. Whether it a toddler learning to walk or a football player making a tackle, young people often fall without sustaining physical harm. Why is it, then, that falling has different consequences for a young person than it does for an elderly individual? For some patients, the answer lies in the gradual breakdown of bone with aging- known as osteoporosis- that leaves bones weak and brittle and more susceptible to fracture.

Bone serves a variety of functions within the body, including providing support to our muscles, acting as a calcium reservoir and creating the cells that make up our blood. To accomplish these varied tasks as we grow and change size, our bones strike a continual balance between creation and breakdown. Post-menopausal women, who have lower levels of estrogen than pre menopausal women, are most at risk for osteoporosis because estrogen is known to push the balance toward bone creation. Men can also develop osteoporosis, but it is much less common and often secondary to hormonal disorders, medications or diseases.

Initially, post-menopausal women with osteoporosis are treated with lifestyle modifications, such as increased dietary intake of vitamin D and calcium, exercise, fall prevention and smoking cessation. However, patients who have already developed a fracture, or are at a high risk for developing one, may be prescribed medications by their doctor. Alendronate and teriparatide are two first line medications often chosen by doctors to treat osteoporosis. While these drugs have been shown to increase bone strength and decrease fractures, they have limited effectiveness and can cause serious side effects in some individuals.

Romosozumab, a newly created compound previously found to strengthen bones in animals, was recently the subject of an exciting new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study compared Romosozumab to popular drugs like Alendronate and teriparatide, to see which was most efficacious in treating osteoporosis in post-menopausal women, and which one had the fewest side effects. Romosozumab was shown to have superior bone strengthening ability to that of Alendronate and teriparatide, and was shown to be just as safe as either drug.

What this means for you:
Those with osteoporosis may soon have access to an even more effective medication that can rapidly and safely improve bone strength and durability. More research needs to be done however, on Romosozumab’s ability to reduce fractures in those with osteoporosis, as well as on it’s safety and tolerability over the long term. At your next doctor visit, consider asking about Romosozumab to help offset bone loss due to osteoporosis.

McClung MR, Grauer A, Boonen S, et al. Romosozumab in postmenopausal women with low bone mineral density. N Engl J Med. 2014 Jan 30;370(5):412-20