The development of the Taxane family of cancer drugs started in the 1960’s with the United States’ discovery of a molecule from the Pacific Yew Tree. This tree possessed a molecule which prevented the division of cancer cells by freezing the cell division process. From this point stemmed the development of a chemotherapy drug called Taxol which was developed by the company Bristol Myers. However, in order to compete with Taxol, Sanofi-Aventis, a French company, developed a synthetic form of this drug, called Taxotere, which has more potent side- effects and is less effective than Taxol. Taxotere received FDA approval in 1996 and began marketing their drug as more effective than Taxol because a less frequent dose was required. Taxotere was then used to treat breast cancer patients, especially patients with recalcitrant forms of breast cancer. However, it was found that over time, patients who had been treated with Taxotere ended up with
permanent hair loss, or alopecia. At this time, neither the oncologists prescribing the drug, nor the patients, were aware of this side-effect. It was revealed much later that Sanofi-Aventis was aware of this side-effect, but refused to publicize it because they feared it would adversely affect their market shares. It was not until January of 2016, 20 years after the product was approved, that the company labeled the product with the alopecia side-effect. As a result, doctors and patients were not given the choice to use Taxol, which does not cause permanent hair loss. In a study conducted by the Consumer Attorney Marketing Group, it was found that 8% of women would have resisted life-saving cancer treatment if it meant they would not lose their hair, even if it was temporary hair loss. These women must now go about their daily lives with the stigma of being a cancer patient, and they must deal with the adversities which come with permanent baldness.