Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Ticket Straight to Hell

In March of 2012, just over a year after my dad had died after being treated with Avastin, it was reported in the news that the company that sells the drug in the U.S. was being investigated for possible distribution of counterfeit product.

I knew it didn't matter for my family, really, for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was that Dad was gone and nothing could ever bring him back.  The other reason - and the one thing that kept me from going completely ape-shit about the possibility of my dad having been given a fake drug as part of the treatment regiment he received after his brain cancer diagnosis - because the MRI he had when he was admitted the second time to the hospital had shown good early results of the treatment (decreased vascularization to the tumor site) which could not have been the case had he gotten the fake stuff.  

A combination of what I guess was curiosity and grief and empathy for anyone else who might have gotten a bad dose of the drug still got to me after I read the reports; all I could think about what what a TICKET STRAIGHT TO HELL that kind of deception must be, if indeed the claims were true.

After a couple of days, I decided to call the Avastin manufacturer Genetech, and in doing so I ended up being connected to a very nice representative who said that - so far - the fake "lots of product" had only turned up in California, Texas, and Illinois and that all of those "were acquired through unapproved means."  When I asked what that meant, he said that the patients who'd gotten the counterfeit Avastin had either acquired it through an unapproved source like through mail-order or for unauthorized treatments, possibly off-label uses, again none of which apply to Dad's case.  

When I told him why I was interested in finding out about the validity of the claims, the rep asked about Dad's case, which, as you can tell, I find therapeutic to discuss - and he took an obvious interest in the medical and in the personal details of Dad's story.  He sprinkled in a few kind comments like "Your dad sounds like an amazing man" [I caught the present-tense verb in that statement and really appreciated it] and "I bet that was really hard" to the conversation, but mostly over the course of our half-hour conversation he just asked open-ended questions and listened as I talked.  When I told him that I was concerned that Dad's case would not be included in the statistics provided to his company by Duke University (where Dad was put on the protocol from the clinical trial) on the outcome of patients with brain cancer who were treated with Avastin (more on that later ... ), the rep said that he was taking notes as we talked about Dad's case and that he would cross-reference them to the statistics provided by Duke for comparison.

The rep was nice, and, while of course that didn't solve any of my problems or bring my dad back, it helped just having him listen and seem to take an interest in what had happened.  As we ended the conversation and I hung up the phone, I thought about how big pharma companies and even just phone reps in general usually get a bad rep - and oftentimes they deserve it, but - just like I saw my dad do countless times - this particular rep had taken the time to show kindness to a stranger for no particular reason at all, and I really appreciated the gesture.

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