U.S. FDA to temporarily allow distribution of anti-smoking pill with some impurities

FILE PHOTO: Pfizer logo seen outside their building in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

(Reuters) – The U.S. drug regulator said on Friday it will temporarily allow manufacturers to distribute versions of Pfizer Inc’s anti-smoking drug Chantix with elevated levels of an impurity that may cause cancer, in order to maintain supplies.

Drugmaker Pfizer in June halted distribution of Chantix, or varenicline, and recalled a number of lots after finding elevated levels of cancer-causing agents called nitrosamines in the pills. (reut.rs/3Bd8SJh)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will temporarily allow some manufacturers to distribute varenicline containing impurities above its acceptable intake limit of 37 nanograms (ng) per day, but below an interim acceptable intake limit of 185 ng per day, until the impurity can be eliminated or reduced to acceptable levels.

The regulator said the health benefits of stopping smoking outweigh the cancer risk from the nitrosamine impurity in varenicline.

Canadian generic drugmaker Apotex will be temporarily allowed to distribute Apo-Varenicline tablets in the United States to help maintain adequate varenicline supply in the country for the near term, the FDA said.

The nitrosamine impurity, called N-nitroso-varenicline, may be associated with a potential increased cancer risk in humans, but there is no immediate risk to patients taking this medication, the FDA said.

Risk of exposure to the carcinogen at interim acceptable intake levels up to 185 ng per day presents minimal additional cancer risk, compared with a lifetime exposure at the 37 ng per day level, the agency said.

The FDA determined that Pfizer’s recalled varenicline poses an unnecessary risk to patients, and recommended healthcare professionals to consider other available treatment options.

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