MSF warns that Sanofi leaving antivenom market will lead to treatment crisis

Sanofi Pasteur says it let the world know 5 years ago that it would quit making Fav-Afrique, a snakebite antivenom, because cheaper products had left it unable to compete. But Doctors Without Borders this week said the other products are not as effective and said an impending shortage will lead to unnecessary deaths, often of children.

The doctors group, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, announced the shortage Monday ahead of the global meeting in Switzerland, saying that supplies are expected to be exhausted by June 2016. It said that replacement products will not be available for a couple of years. The group is trying to put pressure on Sanofi to continue to produce the treatment until alternatives are available.

"Until a replacement product to Fav-Afrique is available, we hope that Sanofi can start to generate the base material needed to produce Fav-Afrique, and then find suitable opportunities within their production capacity to refine it into antivenom," Julien Potet, with MSF, said in a statement.

Sanofi Pasteur spokesman Alain Bernal told the Associated Press that it announced in 2010 that it would stop producing the product by the end of 2014 and offered to transfer the antivenom technology to other manufacturers. "It's very strange that the relevant stakeholders are only realizing this problem 5 years later," Bernal said.

The charity group has called on the World Health Organization to do something about the issue. WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told the news service that the agency has a staffer working on the snakebite problem but it has not found donors willing to cover the cost of keeping the product in the market.

Sanofi has faced other shortages of products in recent years, like its bladder cancer drug ImmuCyst/TheraCys and BCG vaccine for tuberculosis. They disappeared from the market in 2012 after Sanofi shut down a plant to do upgrades after the FDA documented mold contamination there. In that case, Merck ($MRK) also had a bladder cancer product, but it ran into supply issues itself for awhile. Sanofi started resupplying the market with its treatments last fall.

- here's the release
- more from the Associated Press