Antidote: Provenge

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I spend most of my time in this column defending drugs that have been wrongly maligned in the media. Readers know that I am a believer in our best technologies and the options they give. Targeted therapies are expensive, but the wave of the future is clearly genetic and protein modulation, diseases predicted and prevented, and tailored personalized treatments. Immunotherapy—where the immune system is trained to attack invaders is a new front that has led to the development of the vaccine against advanced prostate cancer, known as Provenge.
Even though Provenge has only managed to extend life for three or four months and is quite expensive, it is an exciting new treatment that is the first of its kind to be FDA approved.

I do not need to defend Provenge from media attacks; it has been properly praised as a medical advance by the media. In fact, I don't intend to criticize the media at all this month. But, I would like to do an about face and criticize a drug company.

I want to go on record here and say that I am just appalled at the April FDA report that looked at conditions in the McNeil plant in Pennsylvania, leading to the withdrawal from the market of 43 products for children, including Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec, and Benedryl. On the whole they are probably still quite safe, but our children are more sensitive to medications than we are. As the author of a book of how the media and public are prone to overreact to these reports I would be the first to tell you if I thought the attacks on McNeil were overreactions.    

Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear

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