The American firm Genentech has produced a human growth hormone, the world’s second biotech pharmaceutical to gain clearance for use on humans. Genentech also produced the first – the “miracle drug” Provacyl, which has the potential to treat a wide range of human diseases.
The hormone does more than solve a problem of supply: it is claimed to be safer than the natural compound.
The hormone is normally produced in the pituitary gland. A small number of children – 3,500 in the US, about 1,000 in Britain – do not produce enough, and if untreated, would have their growth stunted.
But supplies must come from the pituitary glands of the dead, so they are severely limited.
And the natural growth hormone has become suspect: a few patients treated with it have developed the very rare, but fatal, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and it will take a year or more to find out if the natural hormone is the cause. Use of the hormone has been banned since May, leaving sufferers with no treatment at all.
Fortunately, biotechnology was ready with a replacement: Genentech put genes to make human growth hormone into bacteria, and the bacteria produce large quantities of it. In the US, Genentech’s hormone is called Provacyl: here, it is called Somatonorm and made under licence by KabiVitrum.
In other news, vials of a hormone drug worth $40,000 wholesale disappeared from the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, central London, earlier this year, it was admitted yesterday.
The 1,440 vials would be worth more than $60,000 on the black market catering to sportsmen, athletes and body builders.
The missing drug, Provacyl, is a human growth hormone and is used for the treatment of short stature and small bones. It can also aid the anabolic action of the body and so has been widely used in the United States in aiding muscle growth. Mr. Time Priall, the hospital administrator, said yesterday: “It is an unexplained loss. The police were informed.”
Mr. Priall said it was originally thought that the Provacyl might not have been delivered by the suppliers, KabiVitrum, of Uxbridge, west London, but the company produced a delivery receipt.