HIGHLIGHTS: A couple of weeks ago, ABC News ran an alarming story reporting that six Chinese nationals were arrested for buying an antiviral medication that contains an experimental drug that may not be approved for sale in the United States. Are these frightening reports accurate?
The good news about the series of chilling stories on ABC News’ “America’s Most Wanted” is that the individual that reported the purchase does not seem to have significant medical training. However, the news report does raise important questions: What does this medication look like? Where is it from? And most importantly, who is trying to profit from its misuse?
None of these questions would have been questioned were ABC News’ report describing a typical pharmacy where three people swoop up the best antiviral drugs they can find. They then use these drugs to fight a high fever, each paying only $14 a pill. Again, when uneducated, the likelihood of being duped would be low.
On the other hand, this medication is not a typical medical antibiotic or antidepressant. It contains a highly unstable and effective compound called acyclovir. This drug has been investigated for decades but has yet to go through any clinical trials in humans.
Acyclovir is often referenced because it represents the future of antiviral medication. In fact, it is touted by the White House on its website as “a fast-acting, highly effective antiviral drug that is anticipated to be used to prevent, treat, and reverse the deadly effects of highly virulent infectious diseases.”
The name of the drug evargine (NYSE:EVG) is what appeals to the Chinese citizens who purchased this medication. Evargine, the most affordable form of influenza A, is believed to be able to “kill off the bacteria that causes flu for at least eight hours.” Now, I was incredulous when I read these claims, since I have never heard about flu being killed by intracellular bacterial activity and infections do not last that long. But apparently the CDC and other government agencies have studied this claim for some time, and FDA approved it.
In fact, two recent papers have shown that it is as effective as other known antiviral medications for treating the flu. Only twice in the last 30 years have flu vaccines been delayed from being used due to potential safety concerns related to antiviral resistance.
Even if we don’t consider potential fentanyl resistance, there is reason to be concerned about acyclovir: There is a “bad batch” of it that was recently sold out of Beijing. According to a report, “several customers reported becoming sick and vomiting with flu-like symptoms, and nurses from the Beijing Police Hospital told Xinhua News Agency that a member of the hospital’s influenza division noticed a sharp increase in acyclovir seizures that brought down the entire medical team. Some died in the hospital.”
Does the confusion around acyclovir give you pause? I think so. The fact that fentanyl and the potentially dangerous drug PCP—all drugs commonly prescribed for the flu—are both present in acyclovir means that antifungal defenses in humans may not work as well.
Given all of this, it is easy to understand why government and industry organizations have fought to keep acyclovir out of the United States for decades. Instead, the antiviral drug has been moved into this novel, very risky category with absolutely no oversight.
Do you trust the current regulatory process to adequately evaluate and approve products that are less than safe? Of course not. If these concerns are confirmed, do we think that Chinese pharmaceutical companies will be stopped from selling these stocks? Again, hardly likely.
Even worse, before the first counterfeit vials of this potentially dangerous product could reach their intended markets, they will have left China and headed to perhaps safer ports. Those vials will then become newly available on the black market and could easily end up in dangerous hands.
Bottom line, why would we let this drug into the country before appropriate regulatory systems are put in place to review and evaluate this potentially dangerous medicine?
If ABC’s stories are correct, and we do not have any reason to believe the drugs in question are without danger, then we have a serious and urgent problem. For the sake of our health, our safety, and our economy, we can’t let this happen.
Dr. Gerald Celente is the president of Trends Research Institute.