A prostate drug is continuing to show promise in growing new hair on men who are going bald. The researchers also predict that Propecia a low-dose form of finasteride will win U.S. government approval as an oral therapy to combat male pattern hair loss. In the highlight presentation of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology Dr. Keith Kaufman director of clinical research for Merck & Co. of Whitehouse Station N.J. showed striking before and after pictures and positive results of clinical trials to a packed hall of more than 1000 dermatologists.

Dr. Kaufman said that men in the study who were receiving the active drug began seeing differences in hair growth for some in as little as three months. The pivotal phase III study demonstrated the drug could change the course of the disorder for the majority of men in the placebo-controlled double-blind multicentre trial who were taking Propecia. "I would be astounded if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn't approve this drug" said Dr. David Whiting clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "It's quite likely it will be approved in Europe this year. It looks good."

Dr. Whiting chaired the session on new treatments on hair disorders and it was clear Dr. Kaufman's study was what most of the researchers came to hear. The only drug now approved in the U.S. for treatment of baldness is minoxidil a topical solution that has to be applied twice a day. It has been shown to be effective in growing new hair in about 40% of patients. In an interview Dr. Paul Cotterill a Toronto cosmetic surgeon who was involved in the Merck study said "whenever there is something brand new for male pattern baldness it tends to be good news."

He said he thinks product approval will soon be sought and granted by Canada's Health Protection Branch to add hair growth to the indications for the drug. But he doesn't think it is going to drastically cut into the large number of hair transplant procedures he does. "It's not going to re-grow hair on a bald head" he cautioned. Propecia which gets its name from alopecia meaning hair loss is already sold as Proscar a 5 mg tablet used to treat benign prostate enlargement. An application has been filed with the U.S.

Food and Drug Administration for approval of Propecia for hair loss. In presenting his new study Dr. Kaufman said Propecia proved more successful than placebo in all four primary and secondary endpoints. The results of the trial which included 1500 men aged 18 to 41 with mild to moderate male pattern hair loss were: Hair counts among Propecia users increased 80 to 90 hairs in the one in two test area but those on placebo lost hair