Sat | Jun 12, 2021

EDITORIAL - Drugs without borders

Published:Saturday | March 17, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The international scientific community has been waging war on cancer for many years. Despite the well-known ability of carcinogenic cells to carve out alternative routes to destroy the body, cancer-fighting drugs developed decades ago are now joined by new cutting-edge medicines that offer greater optimism to patients.

With a reported 800 anti-cancer drugs in various stages of development, Cuba is making headlines with its latest anti-cancer medicine made from venom extracted from blue scorpions which are indigenous to that island. The drug called Vidatox is expected to be available soon in Jamaica, St Lucia and other Caribbean territories.

After 15 years of development, the drug has passed clinical trials to confirm its therapeutic efficacy and is already being marketed commercially in Central and South America, Europe and Asia.

Labiofam, the Cuban government's arm of medical and biological research, claims that Vidatox has successfully treated cancers of the prostate, lung, breast and colon by prolonging the lives of the patients largely through boosting the immune system, reducing pain and, in some cases, destroying cancerous tumours.

The Cuban authorities reported positive results in using Vidatox to treat 10,000 cancer patients, including 3,500 from overseas, for whom conventional treatment had failed. Of that number, many are Europeans who have reportedly sought treatment in Cuba which is known to have a first-rate health care system.

may never get the drugs

With the continued ban on Cuba by the Americans, however, cancer patients there may not have access to new treatment options that could possibly save their lives. That life-saving drugs may never reach people who are running out of options is only one of the evils of the continued isolation of communist Cuba.

Our intention is not to dampen the enthusiasm of those who would want to use this and any other exciting new drug on the market. The unaddressed issue, however, is whether with this being an over-the-counter drug, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, in collaboration with pharmacological experts, will move efficiently to deal with the practical issues surrounding registration and distribution of this drug.

The matter of clinical safety of the drug cannot be overlooked. All too often drugs have had to be withdrawn because of questions about their safety and effectiveness. Therefore, regulators have a responsibility to be extremely vigilant to ensure that all drugs marketed in Jamaica pass muster.

Another relevant question is whether this drug will be out of the reach of patients, especially those without health-care insurance. Considering that cancer patients usually go through many expensive treatment options, price is always a crucial factor. Will US$102 for a two-month treatment be manageable for the majority of patients? Will Vidatox be considered for inclusion in the list of drugs subsidised by the National Health Fund? And most important, do the doctors and regulators have enough information on which to make these decisions?

The good news is that cancer treatment continues to improve year by year. Medical literature discloses that between 1988 and 2000, life expectancy for all cancer patients increased by about four years. So with proper treatment and care, cancer is no longer the inevitably and rapidly fatal disease it once was. Diligent research has allowed patients to gain access to medication that makes cancer a more manageable disease.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.