An Alternative to RU486?


On October 21, 1993, Drs. Mitchell Creinin and Phillip Darney of the University of California at San Francisco publicized the results of their study of methotrexate as an abortifacient. The study, published in the journal Contraception, involved ten women, eight of whose pregnancies were successfully terminated. (Since the original study, more than fifty women have undergone the experimental procedure.)

The most significant aspect of the UCSF study, according to Nancy Tompkins, editor of the pro-choice newsletter Choosing Choice, is the fact that methotrexate is already on the market and FDA-approved for other purposes. Before its use as an abortifacient can be anything other than experimental, however, someone has to apply for a “supplemental indication” approval, which is generally easier to get than a new-drug approval.

Others are less optimistic than Tompkins. Thus far, no drug company has publicly requested a supplemental indication approval, and according to Wayne Koberstein, editor of Pharmaceutical Executive, “it is very unlikely that any large brand-name company will take this on.” Ironically, what may prevent methotrexate from becoming widely available for abortion is its low cost (four dollars per dose compared to two hundred dollars for RU 486). Because of this, methotrexate is unlikely to be a big profit-maker, and companies may be unwilling to risk the wrath of antiabortion groups by marketing it. Even if a company does take this chance, the drug’s approval is probably at least one or two years away.