Monique Doyle Spencer offers a damning op-ed about the unresponsiveness of Roche Pharmaceuticals to an off-the-shelf remedy (henna) for a widely known side effect (hand-and-foot syndrome) of its cancer drug Xeloda (capecitabine). The fact that she does so with her usual dry humor should not disguise that fact that she has a very serious and important case to make.
Putting aside the bureaucratically ham-handed response from the company to her suggestions, there is a real substantive issue here. Why isn't the company helping to tell the story of a low-cost, easily available antidote to that side effect? The drug they sell is an important and good one. The uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, side effect is openly acknowledged. The antidote works in at least some cases and clearly has no adverse impact on patients. (If henna has a major side effect, millions of Indian brides are at risk!) Why not tell them about it, or at least encourage others to do so?
Meanwhile, Monique herself has begun a small campaign to spread the word about this particular remedy. Check out this new blog she has set up, where she notes:
"I want to spread the word about this treatment. It's simple and cheap. By the way, I don't own any henna companies or websites of any kind. I'm a cancer patient trying to help anyone with this syndrome. If you have it, you understand why."
Pharma companies have all kinds of ways to get their message out when it comes to selling their products. Surely a clever person at this firm could figure out a way to do so here that would enhance their public image and not put them at legal risk. Maybe, as a start, Roche should link their website to Monique's blog.
Disclosure: I have not contacted anyone in our hospital to determine if we have any financial dealings with this company. We are often engaged in clinical trials with pharmaceutical companies, and we may or may not be with this company. As should be evident from what I have just written, any such relationship that might exist has had no influence on the content of this blog posting.
* = Hindi slang for "Yes, is it not?" Sorry, couldn't resist.