This February, the FDA listed several cancer treatment drugs to be in short supply, adding to the growing list of drugs that are in high demand.
“What we’re seeing is a shortage of older, generic injectable chemotherapy agents. These are drugs that have been on the market for 20, 30 years,” said Dr. Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Yu, among other specialists in the state, said the issue roots back to economics, including where the drug is manufactured and for what cost.
“The manufacturing is done outside the U.S. The price that they charge falls when they become generics which is a good thing, but if it falls too low, these manufacturers may just decide to pull out of the market,” Yu said.
Then there’s quality control, something Ganio says the FDA monitors, even for manufacturers overseas. That process can slow down production and put a strain on the market’s overall supply.
“A drug shortage that develops overnight when you may only have three manufacturing plants around the whole world and one is taken off line, you immediately cause a shortage problem across the world,” Yu said.
That leaves doctors and their patients in a difficult situation.
“Will they be able to administer life-saving therapies? Will they have to think about substitutions?” Yu said.
Dr. Daniel Petrylak, chief of genitourinary oncology at Yale Cancer Center, said some patients have had to switch between certain cancer-treating drugs while waiting for a new supply to come in.
“We’re making every effort to give our patients the best possible care, but we hope in the future that this is not going to be more of a magnified problem. We have to start thinking and planning ahead as to how we can alleviate this drug crisis,” Petrylak said.
All three doctors said the issue extends beyond medical professionals and to policymakers at the state and federal levels.