Campaigners urge NHS to drop Roche acne drug

Campaigners are demanding that the NHS stop prescribing Roche’s acne drug Roaccutane (isotretinoin), claiming it can lead to erectile dysfunction and suicide.

The drug is approved for treating severe cases of acne that haven’t responded to other treatments. It is also occasionally used to prevent skin cancers and in the treatment of other cancers, such as neuroblastoma.

Roche said the drug has benefited “millions of patients worldwide”.

But campaigners, including parents of people who have committed suicide whilst taking the drug, say that its risks outweigh its benefits, and want the NHS to stop prescribing it.

The BBC spoke to people who said they had experienced psychosis and suicidal thoughts after taking Roaccutane.

Others say that the drug caused them to experience reduced energy and sex drive, as well as erectile dysfunction – and that these side effects have lasted for years after they stopped taking the drug.

The NHS acknowledges that some people have reported mood changes while taking the drug, but notes that there is no current evidence that suggests a causal link between Roaccutane and these changes.

In a statement Roche told the BBC that while the drug has side effects “like most medications… millions of patients worldwide have benefited from taking the drug.”

The company added that: “Isotretinoin product information carries a clear warning that some patients may experience loss of libido and mood changes, including an increase in depression.

“Isotretinoin is a prescription-only medicine and therefore can only be safely used under the care and supervision of suitably qualified healthcare professionals.

“This way, specialists with the most experience can advise patients about the important safety issues associated with isotretinoin.”

The company noted that research by the British Medical Research in 2010 had not established “an observed increased risk of suicide” and that the MHRA concluded in 2014 that it was not possible to identify a clear increase in the risk of psychiatric disorders.

It also said that continuing safety reviews in Europe had not yet found a causal relationship between isotretinoin, sexual dysfunction and depression.

Though Roche produces the biggest-selling version of the drug, another version is marketed by Alliance.

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