A two-drug combination that for the first time promises to cure stomach ulcers and prevent them from coming back was approved Monday by the Food and Drug Administration.
The decision could change the way ulcers are treated in this country, freeing millions of sufferers from years of drug therapy and relapses.
Astra Merck Inc. will be allowed to sell its existing ulcer drug Prilosec, in conjunction with an antibiotic called Biaxin, made by Abbott Laboratories.
In endorsing the combination, the FDA acknowledged the pioneering research of Dr. Barry J. Marshall, who showed in 1983 that a bacterium called H. pylori causes ulcers. In doing so, Marshall challenged half a century of belief that ulcers were caused by stress and stomach acid.
H. pylori affects six of 10 Americans, although not all of them experience any illness. It is blamed for 80 percent of the 4.5 million ulcers diagnosed every year.
Scientists believe that the H. pylori bacteria weakens the stomach lining, allowing acid to create the sores or lesions that cause the burning pain so familiar to ulcer sufferers.
Even now, many doctors treat ulcers with acid-blocking drugs that have to be taken for years to prevent the ulcer from coming back.