More than 700,000 people suffer strokes each year. Currently, there is only one drug on the market, TPA, approved in 1996 to treat and protect the brain from strokes. Subsequent efforts to introduce a better drug have failed–more than 100 times, in fact, since 1996. TPA’s side-effects include brain hemorrhaging and it is only effective if administered within 3 hours of the onset of stroke. Its use, therefore, is severely limited. It may not be used, for example, in the situation in which a person wakes up with the effects of having suffered a stroke overnight, because of the difficulty in establishing when the stroke occurred.
There may finally be some good news in the ongoing search for more and better drugs to protect the brain when a stroke has occurred. A second compound, following TPA, has been approved and funded by the federal Food and Drug Administration, to be tested on humans. The drug is known as APC, which stands for Activated Protein C or Xigris, a medication now used to treat sepsis. In addition to not causing brain bleeding, the new drug will also enlarge the 3-hour window, although the exact amount of time that may be gained with APC is still to be determined.
The medical profession now recognizes strokes as a “brain attack.” Every minute lost represents brain cells destroyed and a greater risk of permanent disability. In addition to the development of new treatments, the medical profession is trying to educate the public to recongize the symptoms of stroke and the need to get to an emergency room without delay if those symptoms are experienced.