Health & Fit Potentially dangerous chemical found in heartburn pill Zantac
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New York — The nation's three largest pharmacy chains — — have and its generic alternative. The heartburn drug, used by millions, was pulled after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this month it may contain a potentially dangerous impurity. But a CBS News investigation reveals that it might not be just an "impurity" — but something much more serious.
At a Connecticut lab, called Valisure, researchers test drugs from its own online pharmacy to check for purity and quality.
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Last spring, they decided to analyze a few heartburn drugs to see if they contained a chemical called NDMA, a . That same chemical had led to recalls of some blood pressure pills in 2018.
One medication stood out: Zantac and its generic version, Ranitidine. It had high levels of NDMA.
"Ranitidine, the active ingredient in Zantac, appears to us to be a fundamentally unstable molecule," Valisure CEO David Light told CBS News.
Light told the FDA and suspects that the problem is not just an impurity but what happens to the pill inside the body.
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"In a variety of conditions — conditions of the lab, conditions of the human body — it can break down and then form the carcinogen, NDMA," Light said.
The possibility that Ranitidine could be converted into NDMA inside the body was suggested three years ago in research published by Stanford University professor William Mitch and his colleague, Teng Zeng of Syracuse University.
In a small study, 10 volunteers were given a tablet of Zantac. Urine testing found NDMA levels more than 400 times greater than what the FDA considers acceptable — even after adjusting for a new FDA protocol for measuring NDMA, Mitch got similar results.
"What we were hoping was that someone else would eventually pick up the results who's in the pharmaceutical field," Mitch explained.
CBS News asked if they did. "To my knowledge, not yet, but maybe this will spur them to," Mitch answered.
In September, three months after Valisure first alerted the FDA to its findings, the agency issued a safety alert, saying its own testing found "low levels" of NDMA in Ranitidine. It is now calling those levels "unacceptable," and told CBS News it is now investigating what happens to Ranitidine inside the body after it's exposed to stomach acid.
UPDATE 1-Walmart becomes latest U.S. retailer to pull heartburn drug Zantac
Walmart Inc on Wednesday became one of the last remaining major U.S. retailers to suspend the sale of over-the-counter heartburn medication containing ranitidine after the U.S. health agency flagged the presence of a probable cancer-causing impurity. © Niloo138/Getty ImagesCVS Health Corp earlier this week said it would stop the sale of the medicines, while pharmacy chains Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Rite Aid Corp have also moved to remove the drugs off their shelves.
"What we've been petitioning for is for the complete recall of all Ranitidine products — brand, generic doesn't matter — doesn't matter who made it or what lot number it is," Light said.
Zantac's maker, Sanofi, told CBS News that Mitch's study has limitations and that the company is working closely with the FDA and doing its own "robust testing." While Zantac is still being sold, some generic makers have issued voluntary recalls.
Is there a link between Zantac and cancer?
No, but Memorial Sloan Kettering — one of the world's top cancer centers — has removed Ranitidine from its pharmacy shelves as it investigates whether there's any evidence patients who take Ranitidine are more prone to certain kinds of cancer. If you are taking Zantac, you can check with your doctor because there are plenty of alternatives for treating heartburn.
Researchers study Zantac cancer risk as FDA probes cause .
How did Zantac become a cancer risk? Early studies show potential signs.But it's been harder to get the drug since September, when the Food and Drug Administration said testing showed versions of Zantac and its generic, ranitidine, contained a probable carcinogen. The French drugmaker Sanofi recalled Zantac from drugstores and retailers' shelves. A half-dozen generic drugmakers pulled ranitidine from the market.
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