South African health activists protest Sanofi over lack of BCG vaccine

Sanofi ($SNY) continues to come under pressure from health groups who say the drugmaker has ceased manufacturing the BCG vaccine and created a global shortage of the jab used to treat tuberculosis and bladder cancer.

Members of the Treatment Action Campaign recently picketed outside the Global Health Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, and charged Sanofi with putting "thousands of children's lives at risk by stopping production of BCG with no warning," the South African Times Live reported.

BCG offers partial protection from TB in the lungs, which is the most common form of the disease.

Blessi Kumar

"We're picketing today because we are fed up of Sanofi putting its bank balance ahead of the lives of our people," Blessi Kumar, of the Global Coalition of TB Activists, told the newspaper. "Medicines are a necessity, not a luxury."

Also participating in the demonstration was Portia Serote of TAC, who said pharma companies "have a responsibility to ensure access to the medicines and vaccines that people rely on to survive."

Alastair McAlpine, who works with children in Cape Town hospitals, estimated the use of BCG vaccine can prevent about 50,000 kids a year in South Africa alone from contracting severe TB.

The Times Live said Sanofi did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Shortages of the drug began with Sanofi's bladder cancer drug ImmuCyst in June 2012; Sanofi recalled four batches of BCG and suspended production at its Pasteur plant in Canada after regulators in Australia found problems with sterility. An FDA inspection of the plant several months later found Sanofi was battling mold in the plant following a flood.

At the time, Sanofi said it was working to return the plant to CGMP standards, however, the FDA continues to list BCG among the drugs that remain in short supply. Merck ($MRK), which was asked by the FDA to pick up the slack to produce BCG, also has experienced problems with BCG production. It has cited on the FDA listing that a shortage of an active pharmaceutical ingredient and increased demand has led to its shortage.

- check out the Times Live story
- here's the FDA BCG shortage listings