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Health Highlights: Dec. 19, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Amgen Illegally Marketed Anemia Drug, Will Pay $762M: Report

Biotechnology company Amgen pleaded guilty to charges of illegally marketing the anemia drug Aranesp and agreed to pay $762 million in criminal penalties and civil lawsuit settlements, according to U.S. government officials.

Federal prosecutors said Amgen marketed the drug for unapproved uses even after the Food and Drug Administration ruled out such uses, The New York Times reported.

In court on Tuesday, prosecutors said Amgen promoted the use of Aranesp to treat anemia in cancer patients who were not receiving chemotherapy, even though the FDA's approval of the drug was only for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The company was "pursuing profits at the risk of patient safety," Marshall L. Miller, acting United States attorney in Brooklyn, said in a telephone news briefing, The Times reported.

At a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, presiding judge Sterling Johnson Jr. will announce whether he will accept the settlement.

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European Union Proposes Tougher Anti-Smoking Action

European Union health officials want bigger warnings on cigarette packs and a ban on certain flavorings -- such as strawberry, vanilla and menthol -- that can lure young people to smoking.

Under the proposal, health warnings would increase to 75 percent of the front and back of a pack, and 50 percent of the sides. The warnings would include messages such as "Smoking kills -- quit now," and have pictures of cancer-damaged lungs, the Associated Press reported.

The proposals are meant to reduce the 700,000 smoking-related deaths that occur each year in the 27-nation EU.

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg noted that "a city the size of Frankfurt or Palermo is wiped off our map every single year" due to smoking-related deaths, the AP reported.

The proposals will be sent to EU member nations and parliament and could be adopted by 2014.

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South Africa's Nelson Mandela to Remain in Hospital

Nelson Mandela has spent 11 days in hospital and could spend a few more days there, South African President Jacob Zuma said in a statement released Tuesday.

The 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero has been treated for a lung infection and underwent surgery to remove gallstones, the Associated Press reported.

In the statement, Zuma said that doctors "say there is no crisis, but add that they are in no hurry to send him home just yet until they are satisfied that he has made sufficient progress."

Zuma added: "We urge the public to continue supporting (Mandela), but at the same time to understand that he is 94 years old and needs extraordinary care. If he spends more days in hospital, it is because that necessary care is being provided," the AP reported.


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