Resolving a Double Standard for Risk Management of Thalidomide
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Background: Thalidomide, once withdrawn because of its teratogenicity, has now been re-launched worldwide. In Japan, thalidomide has been imported by individual doctors since around the year 2000. In October 2008, it was approved for the treatment of multiple myeloma (MM) by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) on the condition that the manufacturer implemented a risk management programme termed the Thalidomide Education and Risk Management System (TERMS). It is likely that the imports of thalidomide will be used off-label to treat diseases other than MM. Thus, the MHLW is also planning to introduce a web-based registration system, referred to as the Safety Management System for Unapproved Drugs (SMUD), for thalidomide imported by individual doctors.
Objectives: To evaluate the difference between TERMS and SMUD and establish a way to resolve the ‘double standard’ for risk management of thalidomide treatment in Japan.
Methods: The fraction of patients with disorders other than MM was estimated by the volume of annual imports obtained from the MHLW and records of the imports for patients with MM, other oncological diseases (ODs) and non-ODs in 2007 through a major supplier covering 63% of the total imported thalidomide. The information for TERMS was obtained from web pages of the manufacturer and the MHLW. The components of TERMS were compared with those in SMUD.
Results: Provided that the distribution of the indication for thalidomide (MM) in 2007, estimated from the records of imports through the major supplier, is representative of the entire nation, it is estimated that on average 866 patients, including 851 (98.3%) with MM, are using thalidomide on any one day. However, if the major supplier’s imports, which account for 63% of the total imports, are not representative of the nation as a whole, possibly only half of the patients treated with thalidomide in Japan have MM. This would be the case in a scenario where the remaining 37% of imports are exclusively used to treat disorders other than MM. TERMS consists of tools for education and registration of patients, and has the potential for real-time intervention. SMUD is a system for registration of patients and exchange of safety information between health professionals, but has some mandatory components that encourage patient registration. TERMS and SMUD are different in nature, and they impose different criteria that doctors and patients should satisfy in order to use thalidomide. To eliminate this double standard, implementation of a single system would be desirable. However, improvement of SMUD may be the second best option by developing tools for patient education, enhancing the potential for real-time intervention and monitoring thalidomide usage by each patient.
Conclusions: On average, a total of about 1000 patients are estimated to be using thalidomide on any one day in Japan. It is likely that those patients are placed under one of two different risk management programmes. SMUD should be improved so that all patients are monitored in a way that results in a similar level of risk management.
The Drug Safety Research Unit Japan is a non-profit organization supported by the annual membership fee from individuals in addition to approximately 30 drug companies. Individual studies have been independently conducted under the contract with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, academic bodies such as the Japanese Society for Pharmacoepidemiology, and drug companies.
No specific sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this study. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this study.
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