Drug Agency to meet with relatives of acne patients

London Independent

By Steve Boggan
06 May 2002

The Medicines Control Agency, the body that licenses drugs in Britain, has agreed to meet representatives of an action group dedicated to helping victims of an acne medication linked to patient suicide.

Dr June Raine, director of the post-licensing division of the MCA, will hold talks with a man whose son killed himself after taking Roaccutane and a patient whose lips swelled, burst and became permanently infected after taking the drug. Other members of the 2,000-strong Roaccutane Action Group have suffered problems with joints and eyes, as well as depression and psychosis.

The action group is hailing the meeting as an important step in its campaign to have the drug, made by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, banned until further tests can be held to establish if it is dangerous. Roaccutane, a vitamin A-based drug that was given a licence in the UK in 1983, has worked for millions of acne sufferers, but for thousands of others it has caused serious long-term side-effects.

It has been linked to 138 suicides and many more attempts worldwide. Under licensing restrictions, its packaging must warn of the possibility of suicide and "suicide ideation" but Roche denies there is any evidence it causes some users to kill themselves. In America, where the drug is called Accutane, Roche is being sued for $70m (48m) by the family of a 15-year-old boy who flew a plane into a skyscraper in Tampa, Florida, after taking the medication.

The meeting between the British group and the MCA will take place in London on 17 May. After months of correspondence, Dr Raine wrote to David Chow, the chairman of the UK action group, and said: "We share your view that the safe use of Roaccutane is a critically important issue. I am fully aware of the serious nature of the issues you raise." An MCA spokesman said Dr Raine thought a meeting was the best way to hear the group's concerns. She will meet Mr Chow, whose lips have deteriorated so badly he can no longer work, Dr Arthur Chow, a retired consultant anaesthetist who is Mr Chow's father, and chairman of the Irish Roaccutane Action Group.

"We see this as a major step forward," David Chow said. "Many members were told by doctors that the side-effects would resolve when the course of Roaccutane was finished. There is now the hope that the medical establishment will acknowledge that certain patients, who cannot be identified pre-treatment, will suffer severe long-term physical and mental side-effects." The group will also raise concerns over the prescribing of the drug outside its licensing limitations. It was licensed for use only on severe cases of acne, but The Independent disclosed last week that dermatologists were prescribing it across the country for use on mild forms of the condition.