Merck restricts bladder cancer drug shipments amid shortage

Merck, the sole supplier of a critical bladder cancer drug, is restricting shipments of the treatment as demand outpaces supply.

In 2012, Merck became the only supplier of TICE BCG, a biologic drug that is remarkably effective against bladder cancers, when Sanofi stopped making it.

"Despite our best efforts, increasing demand for this medicine globally, and unfortunately, occasional unanticipated issues within the lengthy and complex manufacturing process, have led to the demand for TICE BCG to outpace our maximum supply," Merck said in a news release.

As a result of the shortage, Merck said it has been forced to implemented a system that will  proportionally allocate available supplies to countries around the world based on their historical ordering averages.

Merck said "at no point" was profit a consideration.

The shortage of TICE BCG is being felt across the nation, as hospitals find it harder to obtain it. Smaller clinics already have run out of the drug, while larger hospitals like New York City-based Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, have changed their policies on administering the drug to prioritize newly diagnosed patients.

Merck said it has increased production by more than 100 percent and reduced production time by 40 percent. It is now at full capacity, producing about 600,000 to 870,000 vials annually.

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