What's New A newly approved osteoporosis product, Actonel with Calcium, has convenience as its main selling point. The new product adds six 500-milligram calcium tablets to the once-a-week version of Actonel, a bisphosphonate that's already used to inhibit bone loss in post-menopausal women. The extra tablets were added to help women remember to take supplemental calcium, said Tim Brown, a marketing manager for Procter & Gamble, which is selling the new product in a joint venture with Aventis Pharmaceuticals. Surveys by the marketers found that women don't consume enough calcium (1,000 milligrams a day is recommended) and that a sizable number of those who take calcium supplements do so within 30 minutes of using Actonel. That's a problem, because taking calcium supplements at the same time as Actonel decrease the drug's effectiveness.

Forty-four million Americans over age 50 are at risk of a fracture from osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, which applauded approval of the new product. (The foundation receives financial support from drug companies.) A 2004 report from the U.S. Surgeon General warned that half of all Americans may be at risk for osteoporosis by 2020 and said that men and women aren't getting enough calcium or vitamin D, both crucial for preventing bone loss.

Marketing Gimmick? Brown said the new product -- which is not explicitly approved for men -- won't extend Actonel's patent or head off a generic version. He said he hoped, though, it would boost sales of Actonel, which lags behind Merck's Fosamax, the market leader in bisphosphonates.

Users of the new product take Actonel the first day, then calcium the following six days. The combination "certainly is a marketing technique, but it also may have benefit for patients," said Scott Zashin, a rheumatologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. The Actonel/calcium combination will cost roughly the same as the once-weekly version -- about $68 for a month's supply.

-- Alicia Ault

Insufficient calcium and vitamin D can lead to bone loss and fracture.