Thursday, October 06, 2011

October 6, 2011 – Designer Drug Is a Little Closer

Back in October, 2007 and again in June, 2009, I reported on the research success of an idiopathic vaccine treatment for indolent NHL called BiovaxID.  I’ve been following the progress of this research with particular interest ever since, because I was briefly considered for a clinical trial of it when I was first diagnosed.  While that clinical trial proved not to be an option for me (after I was diagnosed with an aggressive from of NHL, besides the indolent form the researchers were targeting), it’s one of the newer treatments that continues to hold promise.  By the time my indolent NHL-dragon awakes from slumber and again rears its ugly head, BiovaxID will likely be one of the arrows in the quiver.

A current financial news article reports that BiovaxID is just about ready for prime time.  Biovest, the company that holds the patent, has just formally petitioned the FDA for regulatory approval.

The wheels of government bureaucracy grind exceeding slow, but this is progress, all the same.

It’s a little odd to read about it in an internet investors’ newsletter called Market Watch.  Articles like this one are meant to help aspiring venture capitalists see what's coming from afar, so they can decide whether  shares of Biovest’s stock are an attractive place to park some of their simoleons.

In the world of Big Pharma, though, that’s the way it works.  It’s not just altruism that keeps those researchers peering into their microscopes and hovering their eyedroppers over petri dishes.  If you can “build a better mousetrap” by curing or pushing back some dread disease, the investment world will beat the proverbial path to your door.  That means some big, fat paychecks for the people in the lab coats, and even fatter ones for those risk-taking financiers who advanced them the money to do what they do best.

BiovaxID is the ultimate designer drug, in that it’s custom-manufactured for each patient.  Starting with some biopsied tissue, the drug company goes back to the lab and cultures a special version of the drug that will be most effective for that person’s body chemistry.

This feature of the treatment stretches the meaning of the word “drug.”  You’ll never be able to amble down to your local pharmacy and pick up a childproof bottle of the stuff.  Each person’s formula is one-of-a-kind.

What BiovaxID will eventually cost, I have no idea. It sure won’t be cheap. It is to ordinary drugs as a Saville Row bespoke tailor is to K-Mart.

Whatever it takes to get the researchers as far down the road as they’ve gone on this one, I’m glad they have.

Another reason for hope!

Monday, October 03, 2011

October 3, 2011 – A Digital Cancer Quilt

Here’s a website worth checking out: the digital cancer quilt at FacingCancerTogether.

I’ve seen similar photo “quilts” whose squares are photos of people with cancer, but this one’s got a cool, easy-to-use interface, allowing different configurations of photos within the square, as well as a place to add some narrative text.

It’s still kind of small, but if we survivors all add a square, it will grow larger pretty fast.

Together, all those squares add up to quite a story of hope!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

October 1, 2011 – Drug Shortages: I’m Not Alone

According to a recent item in The Atlantic, I’m not alone in experiencing the effects of a drug shortage (the Thyrogen shortage, that’s currently shoved my radioactive-iodine treatment onto a siding).

The FDA has documented no fewer than 178 drug shortages so far this year. From the article: “The number of drug shortages has been steadily rising every year since 2006, when 56 shortages were reported. It increased to 90 in 2007, 110 in 2008, 157 in 2009, and finally to 178 in 2010, more than tripling in four years.”

There are lots of reasons for these shortages, evidently, including: “manufacturing problems, drug purity issues, and discontinuations of some older, less profitable drugs by drug companies.”

The FDA’s trying to get Big Pharma to agree to a regulation that would require them to give 6 months’ notice before discontinuing a drug, to allow the FDA time to seek new avenues of supply for patients who need it. The pharmaceutical companies are resisting this, complaining that it’s often because of oppressive FDA regulations that they can’t make a profit on their drugs in the first place.

What insufferable arrogance! Who’s the regulator here, and who’s the regulated?

Still no word from Memorial Sloan-Kettering on when they may get some Thyrogen and be able to schedule my treatment. Late August has become late September, and still no word. Now we’re into October.

Considering the extremely lucrative nature of the drug-manufacturing business, and the critical importance of some of these medications for patient health, you’d think these companies could take the small steps necessary to at least let patients know a shortage is coming.

But that would be too ethical, it seems.