Can we ensure the safe use of known human teratogens? Introduction of generic isotretinoin in the US as an example

Drug Saf. 2004;27(14):1069-80. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200427140-00001.


The prescription of known teratogenic medications requires a careful balance between allowing women access to medications that they might need and avoiding unnecessary exposure to these medications during pregnancy because of their devastating fetal effects. Isotretinoin, a potent human teratogen, is of particular concern because of its widespread use among reproductive-aged women and the dramatic increase in use from 1992 through 2000. A revised risk management system was implemented in 2002 because of concerns about the continued occurrence of isotretinoin-exposed pregnancies. However, the recent approval of three generic versions of isotretinoin in the US has further complicated risk management and raises concerns that use might increase further if the lower cost of generics serves to increase accessibility. There are now four separate isotretinoin risk management systems in the US, each with its own distinct packaging, though the requirements for and substance of each are identical. Some additional concrete steps could be taken to minimise any unnecessary use of isotretinoin and help allow an adequate assessment of the current risk management systems. In addition to being familiar with and following all aspects of the current risk management system, physicians could choose to limit the use of isotretinoin to those who meet the labelled indications in order to reduce the number of exposed pregnancies. All four companies currently marketing isotretinoin in the US could jointly and voluntarily establish a consolidated, mandatory registration and follow-up of all women of reproductive potential who receive an isotretinoin prescription. Mandatory registration has many challenges, but it could allow a clear accounting of the total number of women for whom follow-up information is and is not available. Although the companies cannot be legally compelled to use a consolidated approach, the use of a single registry for the originator's product and all generic brands would allow identification of duplicates and also avoid the confusion that is introduced by providing materials that not only look different, but also have different addresses, contact information and names for participation in follow-up surveys. This is particularly important because women might take more than one version of isotretinoin during a single course of therapy or might receive a different programme's materials from their doctor than from the pharmacy. Though the introduction of generic versions of isotretinoin further complicates risk management, the companies marketing isotretinoin have an opportunity to work together to demonstrate their commitment to both limit the occurrence of exposed pregnancies and conduct a meaningful evaluation of the occurrence of pregnancies exposed to isotretinoin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / prevention & control*
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Drugs, Generic*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Isotretinoin / adverse effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Management*
  • Safety
  • Teratogens
  • United States


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Drugs, Generic
  • Teratogens
  • Isotretinoin