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Sunday, 18 March, 2001, 00:14 GMT
Medicines could carry vCJD
A CJD brain
vCJD causes major changes to the brain
More than 800 medicines, some of which are on sale in the UK, could carry a risk of vCJD.

Drug companies were given until 1 March to prove that their products were free from the human form of mad cow disease.

But the Medicines Controls Agency (MCA) has admitted there are still around 860 medicines which have not been cleared in time for the European Union deadline.

Many drugs are made using animal materials like cattle serum, but drug companies were told they should ensure and be able to prove that their serum did not come from cows that might have BSE.

It is strongly suspected, although it has not yet been proved, that humans can contract vCJD after eating contaminated products from cows with BSE.

It was understood ministers have demanded weekly updates on the situation and have ordered a risk assessment to be carried out on each drug outstanding.

It seems we are playing Russian roulette

Frances Hall, of the Human BSE Foundation

The government-controlled MCA said it was not allowed for legal reasons to name those companies who have not responded.

The drug companies concerned are now breaking the law since European Union legislation tightening medicine safety came into effect at the start of March.

Tardy responses

The news has angered patient groups who are demanding the names of the companies and their products.

They are furious the government has not said whether they are planning to take legal action.

The official BSE inquiry, led by Lord Phillips, voiced concern that the government had not done enough to ensure the rules were being obeyed.

And last autumn the government was forced to withdraw an oral polio vaccine after it became clear it had been developed from serum which could potentially have been infected with BSE.

The government's Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson said the risks were "incalculably small", but it was removed from use.

The MCA has stressed that all vaccines and inoculations, including the controversial mumps measles and rubella jab (MMR), do now meet the guidelines.

It said it had received responses for around 15,500 products and is currently compiling an assessment of the range of products involved.

A spokeswoman for the MCA said they would not allow the public to be put at risk by any tardy responses.

Safety guidelines

She said: "The government will consider what action should be taken to ensure that these products comply with these important safety guidelines.

"The government will not hesitate to take action to protect public health in the UK if this proves necessary."

But Frances Hall, whose son Peter died from vCJD in 1996, said it is vital that all medicines are cleared, not just vaccines and jabs.

Frances Hall of the Human BSE Foundation
Frances Hall: Wants to see dangers eliminated
Mrs Hall, of the Human BSE Foundation, said: "We keep being assured of all these belt and braces measures only to discover later that they haven't been properly applied.

"The risk may be small but any amount of danger is too much if it is your family that's affected. It seems we are playing Russian roulette."

Clive Everf, chairman of the CJD Support Network, said: "I find it deeply worrying that the drug companies have so far failed to provide this information.

"I am also deeply disappointed that the government has not put further pressure on the drug companies to provide this information."

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