By Peter Stevenson
LOCAL press reports that the Exjade drug used in the treatment of thalassaemia is unsafe are wide off the mark and contain serious inaccuracies, according to distributor Novartis.
Politis reported on Thursday that the health ministry was investigating irregularities dating back to 2011 with the order and supply of the drug and that Exjade (also known as deferasirox) was on the list of ‘most frequent suspected drugs in reported patient deaths’ compiled by the U.S. Institute for Safe Medical Practices in 2009.
The investigation which is being carried out at the auditor-general’s request was confirmed to the Cyprus Mail by acting permanent secretary at the health ministry, Christina Yiannaki.
The investigation, to be concluded by December 9, is being carried out following a suggestion by auditor-general Chrystalla Georghadji after irregularities had been discovered in the purchase of the drug.
Novartis said in a statement that patients being treated with Exjade should not stop their medication without first consulting their treating physician.
It has been used in Cyprus since 2007 to treat chronic iron overload (excess iron in the body) in people who suffer from thalassaemia.
“Exjade is one of the most modern treatments for chronic iron overload, which is caused by repeated blood transfusions and has significantly contributed to improving thalassaemia patients’ quality of life,” Novartis said.
According to the company, it is the only available oral chelating agent and is taken once daily.
According to Politis, the investigation is focusing on the head of the pharmaceutical services and two orders that were placed for Exjade. The first, which was cancelled, was placed in 2011 at a cost of €7.9m for 118 thalassaemia sufferers. The second order was placed for 68 patients and came to €4.1m, the report said.
Health minister Petros Petrides assured patients who take Exjade that it is a safe drug.
“We should not cause unnecessary panic,” he said.