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Cutting-edge science and the development of groundbreaking and lifesaving drugs get a lot of attention, but the everyday practice of medicine is often more mundane: It doesn’t involve being CRISPR’d or having gene therapy delivered into your cells. The truth is that most people who are very sick and visit their doctor get treated with very ordinary and sometimes very old drugs.

But in recent years supplies of some of these critical standby medicines have become disrupted. The shortages have forced doctors to make hard treatment decisions. Drugs have to be rationed or, in the worst cases, patients who need care can be turned away.


Dr. Ben Davies is a professor of urology at the University of Pittsburgh and a BioTwitter influencer (“I don’t think anyone has ever called me a BioTwitter influencer before,” he says.). Davies recently chatted with STAT about the recurring problem of drug shortages.

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  • Merck uses just 1 of the available strains of BCG (TICE). There are several other strains that are more effective than TICE (TheraCys) which have been through clinical trials but are not longer produced. And there are others, such as the Tokyo-172 strain, that are currently in production but not available to the Western drug market.

    Tokyo-172 is not a new drug. It’s being used extensively in S.Korea, Taiwan & Japan. There’s no reason for the FDA to require new clinical trials to get this strain into the US market to relieve the current TICE shortage.

    Enough of blaming Merk for this shortage. In view of prior TICE BCG shortages, the medical field has not been adamant in demanding the FDA put an end to Merck’s monopoly. Alternative strains already in production must be approved for distribution in the US market now.

  • Hello I like your collum very much. I would like to tell you that the problem with cancer is only one “Greed, every body want to make money out the cancer patients.

    I know that at first hand. My sister passed from cancer of the mamma at ,36.
    The traditional treatments are basically the same for the last one hundred years, and they don’t work. The five years survival is only the time the cancer needs to come back and kill the patient.

    Doctors say that there is no cure for cancer. I believe that is the result of a one hundred years very profitable business. I will bet you money, that if the price of chemotherapy go down to the the price of a hot dog the big cancer companies will put all their efforts in finding the cure for this horrible sickness.

    Almost every day, they said they have a new cancer drug that will give the patient a few months more to live in horrible pain and poor quality of life. This new drug usually have a very high cost.

    We will have the cure for cancer in no time, when they see that there is not much profits in Chemotherapy.

    Also, I believe that a cancer patient must be allowed to use the treatments he wants.

    • I suppose if they raise the price, then another pharma will invest the $100 million to open their own production line, and Merck will lose its monopoly. Better solution is to designate a list of essential low-margin drugs and establish a regulatory framework as with your local electric company: price and reliability of supply is regulated, with price set to guarantee a designated rate of return. Ideally, big pharma should co-operate in jointly funding these “regulated utility’ facilities.

  • People should urge the FDA to approve new drugs in the pipeline to help patients with bladder cancer. Vicinium is one of them, being developed by Sesen Bio. I own their stock and hope that they can start producing the drug commercially sooner than later.

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