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What We’re Reading: Prostate Cancer Study Halted; Nervous System Complications After COVID-19; Health Risks From Erythritol

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Merck ends a prostate cancer study involving pembrolizumab; a little-known nervous system condition is affecting some patients after COVID-19 infection; the artificial sweetener erythritol might increase risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a preliminary study.

Merck Discontinues Prostate Cancer Study

Merck has announced that it will stop a late-stage drug trial of combination therapy with checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for prostate cancer after interim data showed that it wasn’t likely to meet the main goals of the study, reported Reuters. Data show that the combination therapy, which also included androgen deprivation therapy and Xtandi (enzalutamide) didn’t extend survival or assist in extending life without the disease worsening compared with placebo. It was also linked with a higher rate of serious adverse events compared with placebo, according to Merck. This marks the third prostate cancer trial Merck had abandoned.

Nervous System Disease Rising After COVID-19 Infections

A condition called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is on the rise following COVID-19 infection, but because it is not well understood in the medical community, most patients are dismissed as having anxiety and have significant delays in treatment, said The Washington Post. It’s unclear as to how many people develop POTS after COVID-19, but it could be 2% to 14%, with 30% of patients with long COVID meeting the criteria in one study. The disorder is more common in women than men; causes rapid heart rate, fainting, and dizziness; and affects the autonomic nervous system.

Artificial Sweetener Might Increase Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke

A preliminary study published Monday in Nature Medicine found that the artificial sweetener erythritol might increase heart attack and stroke risk, reported Stat News. The sweetener is present foods that include snack bars and low-sugar ice cream substitutes. Outside experts who studied the findings stressed that more evidence is needed, with some emphasizing that the results could stem from other factors that have nothing to do with the sweetener.

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