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Bayer nixes plan to discontinue drug for hemophiliacs

A major German drug maker called off its plan to discontinue the supply of a hemophiliac drug to the South Korean market in response to the fierce protests from patients, health authorities said Tuesday.

Bayer HealthCare Korea announced in February that it would stop providing Kogenate FS for Korean hemophiliac patients from July, citing its integration process of global manufacturers.

Hemophiliac patients immediately launched several protests against the plan, leading the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to ask the company three times to reconsider the suspension.

“The company will limitedly continue its drug supply for those who do not have alternatives other than Kogenate FS,” said a Bayer HealthCare Korea official.

The drug is considered crucial for patients with Hemophilia A, who genetically suffer from clotting factor VIII deficiency that leads to increased bleeding. About 80 to 100 out of 2,500 Korean patients currently use Kogenate FS, the ministry said. Among these, 20 patients have not found any alternative medicine other than the Bayer HealthCare drug, it added.

While the German drug maker still advises patients to seek alternative medicines, it also said that it would work on setting up a medical standard for getting prescriptions of Kogenate FS by this month as an effort to limitedly offer the medicine.

Civic activists, who previously expressed concerns over the company’s drug suspension decision, welcomed the latest news but called for a broader medical standard.

“The standard must ensure the patients’ rights to use the drug. It should include “those who see a great effect from the medicine” while definitely including those who are solely dependent on Kogenate FS, said non-governmental group Korea Hemophila Association.

While there are five other hemophiliac medicine alternatives in Korea, the Kogenate FS is preferred for some patients who show side effects to other medicines. Whereas Bayer HealthCare’s drug is made by gene recombination, two others are plasma derivatives, raising infection risks of HIV or hepatitis, the health authorities said. The other three produced by gene recombination reportedly cause medicine resistance, they added.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (