Sep 08, 2014
By Jane Brown
An essential drug for the treatment of bladder cancer is in limited supply across Canada. The shortfall is blamed on manufacturing problems at plants operated by two different pharmaceutical companies and could have significant consequences for patients. Without the drug, called BCG, some patients might require surgery to remove their bladders. Neil Fleshner is the head of urology at the University Health Network in Toronto. He says they’re “struggling with how to ration their stock and the shortage could last weeks or months.” Doctor Fleshner also says if they run out, it would be an “oncologic disaster.”
The principal supplier of BCG for bladder cancer treatment is Merck Canada Inc. A company spokesperson says Merck is committed to resolving this issue as quickly as possible. A second manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, makes a product called ImmuCyst, but it has not been available since 2012, when production was suspended due to a problem at its plant outside Toronto. The drug will not be available again until mid-2015.
BCG is also used as a vaccine for tuberculosis. It’s not entirely clear how BCG works in bladder cancer patients, but it’s believed it stimulates the immune system and keeps the cancer cells from spreading.