Federal Panel Affirms

Inhaled Form of Insulin

A federal advisory committee recommended yesterday that the government approve the first inhaled form of insulin, offering some diabetics an alternative to many of their daily injections.

The recommendation by the Food and Drug Administration advisers came despite questions about use of the drug in people who have lung disease or have been exposed to secondhand smoke.

No specific restrictions were recommended for Exubera, but FDA officials said smokers probably would not be able to use the drug. Their blood sugar could fall dangerously low with Exubera because their lungs absorb much more inhaled insulin than do the lungs of nonsmokers. Some advisers also expressed concerned that people might not use the device properly.

Panel members twice voted 7 to 2 to recommend FDA approval of Exubera for each of the two most common types of diabetes. The drug is produced by Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis and Nektar Therapeutics.

Exubera is part of a wave of new ways of taking insulin and alternative treatments for diabetes. Today, the same committee will consider Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Pargluva, the first of a new class of non-insulin therapies.

Premature Births

Reach New High

More than 12 percent of U.S. babies, a record, were born prematurely in the most recent year tallied, a result of delaying childbirth and doctors taking steps such as inducing labor in some older mothers, officials said.

The teenage birth rate, meanwhile, continued to decline, to 41.6 births per 1,000 girls and women 15 to 19 years old in 2003, a level 3 percent below the previous year, according to figures released by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The figures on premature births -- showing 499,008 infants were born in the United States in 2003 after fewer than 37 weeks gestation -- reflect aging mothers and shifting birthing practices, according to federal researchers and the March of Dimes.

"Prematurity is the No. 1 killer of newborns," Jennifer Howse, the March of Dimes president, said in a statement.

The rising rate of premature births might not reflect a corresponding increase in risk, however, because much of the increase is the result of such practices as doctors inducing labor to avoid worse complications, said Joyce Martin, an author of the National Center for Health Statistics report.

Ancient Reptiles Likely

Had Giant Wingspans

The giant reptiles that flew above the earth until about 65 million years ago could have grown to twice the size originally thought, with wingspans of at least 60 feet, a paleontologist said yesterday.

That would be nearly the width of the 64-foot, fully extended wingspan of an F-14 Tomcat fighter plane.

David Martill, of the University of Portsmouth in England, said his research on pterosaur wings appeared to answer the question of how such enormous creatures managed to take to the skies and stay there.

-- From News Services