30 November 2000
-Action Research calls for safer medicines to treat youngsters-
Leading medical research charity, Action Research, today (4.12.00) launched an important awareness campaign calling for the proper licensing and testing of drugs on youngsters.
The campaign, Drug treatment in children: Children are not little adults, is supported by the Consumers’ Association, who have been campaigning for some years on testing drugs for children. It calls on the British Pharmaceutical Industry to make positive moves to gain a greater understanding of the effect of drugs in children.
John Grounds, director of Action Research says: ‘Many drugs used on children on a daily basis are not tested or licensed for this use.
‘This situation is an unacceptable and potentially-fatal one which needs to be remedied, for the benefit of all children, parents and doctors.’
Children and babies differ from adults in the way drugs are absorbed in their bodies, and in the types and frequency of side effects. But currently 40% of drugs used in treating children are not licensed for that purpose whilst 65% of drugs used in treating newborn babies in hospital are unlicensed or licensed only for adults.
The awareness campaign was launched at The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children - the home of an Action Research project that is already making pioneering steps in studying the effect of drug treatment in children. It’s the only UK team carrying out research of this kind.
Both Action Research and the Consumer’s Association are also moving the issue forward next February with a summit bringing together high-level decision-makers from within the parties and the British Pharmaceutical Industry.
Clara Mackay, Senior Policy Adviser at Consumers’ Association, said: ’Action Research’s contribution to this ongoing campaign will be extremely important.
‘At the moment children are being denied the same rights as adults in the provision of properly tested drugs. The reluctance of most companies to take up an opportunity to outline their policy in this area is worrying.
`The pharmaceutical industry needs to take their share of responsibility for this state of affairs. The Government also needs to set out a strong position in Europe to ensure that guidelines on drug testing in children are followed across the EU. If the guidelines aren’t followed the law should be changed.’
Labour MP Andy Love, who has raised the issue in Parliament, says: ‘This is an important yet somewhat neglected issue.
‘When prescribing for children, all too often doctors are left to sink or swim with their own clinical knowledge and judgement. We need campaigns such as this one to raise awareness and press for change to protect children from poor prescribing.’
Action Research has committed almost £214,000 in funding for research at The Queen’s University and the Royal Hospitals, where blood samples are being taken from children as part of their routine clinical management, and the effect of the drugs, beneficial or otherwise, analysed.
Professor James McElnay, of the School of Pharmacy, Queen’s University of Belfast, says: ‘This work is of major international interest as both public opinion and the opinion of medical staff quite rightly demands that drug use in children should be evidence-based.
‘Children are not just little adults. Drug handling by children, particularly young ones, can be quite different to that in adults due to immaturity of the liver and kidneys.’
The first wave of funding has enabled researchers to successfully develop the infrastructure in which to perform the research, for example monitoring and managing the data, and ways in which to accurately study small volumes of blood.
Almost 300 children have currently taken part in the study, and some of the drugs are currently being subjected to specialised statistical analysis.
Due to its success, the project has now been extended, and enlists the support of leading children’s hospital Alder Hey, Liverpool, where Tony Nunn is one of the most prominent paediatric pharmacists in the UK.
Although Professor McElnay stresses this is a relatively long-term project with much work and analysis still to be done, he adds: ‘We are very encouraged by our progress to date and by the widespread support of parents and children.
‘We’ve had very few refusals of participation. The parents are willing to help in any way they can to support research that could be of benefit to their child or to other children in the future.’
Dr Mike Shields, a medical consultant at Queen’s University agrees: ‘Having more information on how medicines effect children would increase the confidence of our prescribing.’
Mr Grounds summarises: ‘We all strive for the best medical treatment available. Why should we deny our children the same level of care and protection that we expect as adults? This is an issue that cannot and should not be neglected.’
Action Research launched its Touching Lives campaign this year, which aims to raise £1.5m for vital medical research to benefit children and families across the UK.
For further media and press information, please contact Nicole Duckworth or Duncan Barkes in the Action Research press office on 01403 327 403 /404 Fax: 01403 210541. A case study is also available.
Notes for Editors:
The establishments include: The School of Pharmacy and the Department of Child Health, The Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in conjunction with the Pharmacy Department, The Royal Hospitals, Belfast, and the Department of Pharmacy, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool.