A Pfizer-produced drug to treat Gaucher disease, a genetic illness particularly common among Ashkenazi Jews, has become the first prescription medication to receive a kosher certification from the Orthodox Union, Pfizer announced this week.
The catch is the medication doesn't actually seem to require kosher certification, since Jewish law generally does not consider medication to be food, particularly if it is not administered orally. The Gaucher drug, called Elelyso, is injected.
In addition, lifesaving drugs are exempted from kashrut considerations, said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the CEO of OU Kosher.
"In a life or death situation, Jewish law clearly sets aside the kosher status of a prescription medicine, but in other cases, it is preferable and sometimes recommended that a medicine be certified kosher," Genack said. "We commend Pfizer for taking this step and making this commitment to the Jewish community."
It remains unclear whether the kosher certification will be a one-time move for the OU or will pave the way for additional certifications that could hand more power to kashrut agencies if kosher labels on prescription drugs become a sought-after stringency.
Pfizer paid OU a "nominal fee" to cover expenses related to the facility inspection and to obtain the ceritifcation, a Pfizer spokeswoman told CNBC. She said the certification "shows Pfizer's commitment to the Gaucher disease community."
Elelyso is produced in the Protalix Biotherapeutics manufacturing facility in the northern Israeli town of Carmiel. Protalix is the first Israeli biotech firm to partner with Pfizer.
Elelyso is a form of enzyme replacement therapy for the long-term treatment of adults with type 1 Gaucher disease, an inherited metabolic disorder of which about 1 in every 14 Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier, according to the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute. The disease affects the functioning of the liver, spleen, bone marrow and nervous system.