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Sanofi's Halt of BCG Production Worries Bladder Cancer Patients and Urologists

Ariela Katz
Published: Thursday, Dec 01, 2016

Sanofi Pasteur plans to discontinue production of Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) for the US market by mid-2017, startling physicians and patients who fear that a shortage of the widely used bladder cancer therapy will develop.

The company announced plans to stop manufacturing the drug, sold under the brand names TheraCys and ImmuCyst, in a statement posted on its website last week1 after informing urologists about its decision in an email. The product will not be relaunched in the United States.1

With Sanofi’s exit, that leaves only one other company, Merck, manufacturing BCG for distribution in the United States.

Merck, which produces the vaccine under the brand name Tice, is fully equipped to meet the expanded demand, according to Elaine Perry, MD, FACPM, executive director and chief patient officer at Merck. “As early as 2012, there was a significant increase in demand for BCG. There were challenges initially but, looking at the US, we are already meeting demand with no back orders,” Perry said in an interview with OncLive.

Nevertheless, news of the impending discontinuation is already sending ripples of panic throughout the urologic community.

“There are limited suppliers of BCG live attenuated vaccine indicated for the intravesical instillation for nonmuscle invasive bladder cancer, and now we have one less,” said Andrea B. Apolo, MD, chief of the Bladder Cancer Section of the Genitourinary Malignancies Branch at the National Cancer Institute. “As of yet, it is unclear yet how [the discontinuation] will affect the cost of BCG, but great efforts are ongoing to keep up with demand and find new suppliers.”

She said that more than “70% of patients with bladder cancer present with nonmuscle invasive disease and many require treatment with BCG.”

The email that Sanofi sent to urologists said that the company attempted to find another manufacturer to take over the production of ImmuCyst and TheraCys, but that “ultimately no party would commit to take on this product.”2

Marc A. Dall’Era, MD, associate professor and vice chair of Urology at the UC Davis Cancer Center, said in an interview that “clinicians currently have no adequate treatment alternatives that are proven better or equivalent to BCG.”

Social media, particularly Twitter, is flooded with treating urologists who are concerned about the potential for a BCG shortage. “BCG shortages will lead to rationing and inadequate care of men and women with this disease and will put patients at significant risk,” commented Dall’Era.

Robert L. Grubb III, MD, an associate professor of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in an interview, “It’s frustrating for urologists to try to explain to patients why this drug, which has been around for years, is not available to them.”

Past Supply Shortage

BCG is an intravesical immunotherapy that is indicated for the treatment and prophylaxis of carcinoma in situ of the urinary bladder and for the prevention of primary or recurrent stage Ta or T1 papillary tumors following transurethral resection.

Sanofi said the company is discontinuing production because it cannot guarantee the long-term continuity and reliable supply of the product. The decision is not linked to safety issues, and all doses of TheraCys and ImmuCyst which have been released to the market meet all quality, safety, and efficacy guidelines, the company said.1

There is a feeling among urologists of history repeating itself, since this is not the first time in recent years that the BCG supply has been disrupted. In 2012, Sanofi shut down the Canadian factory where it manufactures BCG after the FDA found numerous sterility and safety infractions, particularly regarding mold. This left the drug at serious risk of contamination.

Among the violations were 58 mold infractions, insufficient environmental monitoring, keys not being stored in a controlled manner in several areas, and nesting birds in the intake grills for the air handling units.3 However, Sanofi shut down the factory in order to correct these problems, and later resumed production.

The FDA noted that TheraCys has not been available in the United States since spring 2012, when Sanofi originally announced that there would be a shortage of the product. At that time, FDA immediately reached out to Organon Teknika Corporation, LLC, a subsidiary of Merck which also manufactures BCG.4

During the Sanofi shutdown, Merck ramped up production to meet the burgeoning demand, and the product was placed on allocation as needed by the FDA.5 However, there were still problems with supplies. “Many patients had their treatment delayed or discontinued. Providers, in some cases, were forced to ration BCG to their highest-risk patients,” Apolo said.

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