US approves first anti-baldness pill

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The Independent Online
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first pill to fight baldness, a once-a-day tablet that promises to help men regrow hair and prevent more falling out. Merck-and-Co said that Propecia would be available on prescription in the US by mid-January. The company estimates that consumers will pay $45-49 (pounds 29-30) for a month's supply.

Propecia is not a miracle pill - none of the hundreds of men who tested the drug grew a full head of hair and not all were even helped. But before- and-after photographs showed that Propecia can shrink bald spots, a few by enough that just a quarter-sized spot of scalp still showed.

There are 40 million balding American men and many who now spend $15- 30 a month on non-prescription preparations may now turn to the new drug for help. Women suffer hair loss, too, but the FDA has warned that they should never take Propecia because it can cause birth defects - doctors have even said that women should not to touch the pills for fear of absorption through the skin.

Propecia is a lower dose of a popular drug - Proscar - used to treat men with enlarged prostates. Doctors had noticed that some prostate patients were experiencing hair regrowth; Merck studied the effect and determined that 1mg of the active ingredient, finasteride, was enough to treat baldness - not the 5mg that prostate patients take. Propecia works by suppressing a hormone that shrinks hair follicles. In tests submitted to the FDA, dermatologists concluded that 30 per cent of men given Propecia grew slight amounts of hair in a year, and another 18 per cent grew moderate to heavy amounts.

- AP, Washington