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The Problem Of Drug Extinction

Doctors are all-familiar with marketing efforts to promote new drugs, but once the new drugs displace older drugs in the medical marketplace, who serves as advocates for the continued manufacturing of older FDA-approved drugs?

In a short answer: No one.

For those of us dealing in cardiac arrhythmia management, this presents difficult challenges for patient care if people are unable to take the newer drugs due to side effects. These patients no longer have a fall-back option to turn to for medical therapy when the older drugs have become extinct on the marketplace.

Examples of antiarrhythmics that have reached extinction status in the U.S. include many of our older antiarrhythmic drugs such as procainamide, mexilentine or quinaglute.

Take for instance a recent case:

A older person with recurrent ventricular tachycardia and congestive heart failure and ICD implantation who has experienced several appropriate shocks for hemodynamically-significant ventricular tachycardia from their ICD. They were not in heart failure and had a consistent ideal body weight. Beta blocker medications have been maximized. This same person is pacemaker dependent and allergic to Amiodarone and iodine. Sotalol was not tolerated and dronedarone is contraindicated because of heart failure. Their creatinine clearance is 40. The patient was placed on mexilentine in the hospital and did well, only to find after discharge that pharmacies could no longer obtain the drug. Oral procainamide, I have found, suffered the same fate long ago. Few options remain: dofetilide as an inpatient?


Still, the issue of drug extinction is a challenging one: not enough market to justify the drug’s manufacture, yet still a rare patient out there who might need an older medication. Even generic drug manufacturers won’t manufacture these niche drugs — there’s just not enough of a market to justify their manufacture and the regulatory environment precludes a small startup company from even trying to meet the very small demand.

I wish I had an answer to this conundrum. How do others handle this situation?

-WesMusings of a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

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