NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 28, 2007

An enzyme that lives in the stomach -- named CYP3A4 -- breaks down drugs before they enter the bloodstream.   So people with lots of CYP3A4 may have less medicine enter their blood than people who don't have so much.  But grapefruit juice has a compound that temporarily gets rid of CYP3A4 -- which allows more of a drug to enter the bloodstream, says the Wall Street Journal.

This development has some researchers now trying to use grapefruit juice to their advantage, says the Journal:

  • A University of Chicago study is pairing grapefruit juice with rapamycin, which is sold by Wyeth as an immunosuppressant and is being studied to treat cancer.
  • Normally, only about 14 percent of the drug is absorbed into the blood, but give it a bit of juice and the absorption rate increases several fold.

It's too early to tell how far this sort of thing might go, and standardizing grapefruit juice as part of a drug regimen could be tricky.  But some doctors think the grapefruit effect could ultimately allow patients to take lower doses of drugs.

"Oral oncology therapies are costing $3,000 to $5,000 a month. So it's almost like a new world when it comes to drugs costs," Ezra Cohen, a University of Chicago oncologist studying rapamycin.  "If we can lower the costs of those by 50 percent, you're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars saved."

Source: Jacob Goldstein, "Could Grapefruit Juice Cut Drug Costs?" Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2007.

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