A drug which stimulates the formation of new bone may help thousands of women crippled by osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis thins the bones
Current drugs for brittle bone disease work by slowing the rate of bone loss, thus reducing the risk of fractures.
But teriparatide actually stimulates production of bone-forming cells called osteoblasts - and makes them more active.
The drug, manufactured by Lilly, is recommended for use in post-menopausal women with severe osteoporosis.
It is the first of a new class of drugs called bone formation agents to be approved in the EU.
Tests have shown it reduces the risk of new spinal fractures (one or more) by 65% and multiple spinal fractures (two or more) by 77%.
Patients can take the drug - known commercially as Forsteo, at home using a self-injection.
Osteoporosis affects more than 150m people worldwide, and is likely to become even more widespread as the population ages. One in three postmenopausal women will be affected by the condition.
The National Osteoporosis Society described the drug as a "radicaly different treatment".
In a statement, the charity called for the drug to be taken up by hospitals across the UK.
It also said: "We know that one in 12 men over the age of 50 in the UK have osteoporosis, many of whom have the same painful fractures as women.
"We look forward to the day when researchers examine further the effects of this treatment on men."
Professor Graham Russell, a former chairman of the National Osteoporosis Society, told a meeting of the Society for Endocrinology that science had entered a "landmark period" for the treatment of osteoporosis.
He said: "For the first time we can begin to cure the disease, rather than just stop it getting worse."
Dr Richard Keen, director of the Metabolic Unit at the Royal National
Orthopaedic Hospital in London said: "Without treatment many women with severe osteoporosis will continue to fracture.
"They may already have tried currently available treatments or they may have
a need for a rapidly acting drug to build new bone.
"Their disease can mean they are afraid to do simple tasks such as picking up a grandchild due to concerns about causing a new fracture."
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) is due to carry out an appraisal of treatments for osteoporosis next June.
Guidelines on the treatment and management of the disease are due to be
published by Nice by June 2005.