Action 9

Action 9: Patients worry about shortage of cancer drug

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — BCG is the only medicine that treats certain forms of bladder cancer.  But there's a shortage of the drug.

Three companies used to make BCG.  But two ran into manufacturing problems.  So, now, only one company makes it, Merck.

Merck emailed Action 9, "Beginning in 2012, Merck unexpectedly became the sole supplier of this specific strain of BCG in many countries around the world."

Merck said it increased production by "more than 100 percent."  So, now, it's pumping out between 600,000 and 870,000 vials per year.  "Despite our best efforts, increasing demand for this medicine globally and, unfortunately, occasional unanticipated issues within the lengthy and complex manufacturing process," Merck told Action 9 has led the demand "to outpace our maximum supply."

Plus, the American Cancer Society counts 80,000 new cases of bladder cancer in the U.S. every year.

Merck said it "recognizes the impact supply shortages can have on patients and how upsetting it is when patients cannot receive the medicines they need.  We share the frustration patients and family members are facing due to the supply constraints around TICE BCG and have colleagues and family members who are facing similar circumstances."

Action 9 asked the FDA if it's doing anything to help.  The agency can't force drug companies to make more medicines, but it said it's working with Merck to find solutions.  Action 9 asked for examples and was waiting to hear back by noon Monday.

In the meantime, patients don't have many choices.  They should discuss options with their doctors.  The FDA says doctors may want to contact Merck directly to find out about availibility of the drug.

Venetia Bass, a retired nurse, had bladder cancer.  "I went to the bathroom, had all this blood in the commode, and I said to my husband, 'I don't know where that came from,'" she said.  "When my gynecologist saw it, he said, 'We need to go see the urologist like yesterday.'"  She said, "Within the week, he'd removed a golf ball-sized tumor from my bladder."

Then Bass started on BCG.  "This drug will, can save lives."  Bass has to go to her doctor for the treatments.  "I only need two more treatments.  So I'm hopeful that i've had enough to kill my bladder cancer," she said.  "I'm really concerned about all his patients he's got that are not freshly diagnosed who won't have this treatment."

For more information about BCG, click here or call 1-800-672-6372.