Patients At Risk As Shortage Of Life-Saving Cancer Drugs Persists

Presently, the U.S. is facing a continued shortage of critical life-saving drugs used to treat a variety of different cancers in patients, reports NBC News. Among these drugs is the prostate cancer treatment injection Pluvicto, according to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Injections of methotrexate are also currently in shortage — this drug is used to treat leukemia, cancers of the breast, blood, and lungs, as well as some head and neck cancers (via MedlinePlus). The third drug currently in short supply is cisplatin, most often used for treatment of testicular cancer (per National Cancer Institute). The fourth drug affected by the shortage is fluorouracil, which targets cancers of the stomach, rectum, and pancreas, amongst others (via National Cancer Institute).

"Drug shortages are impacting every therapeutic area of practice at this time," Jeffrey Pilz, assistant director of pharmacy in Medication Safety and Drug Policy at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explained to Targeted Oncology. "In 2023, shortages are reaching record numbers, and unfortunately, our oncology medications are not immune."

Potential causes of the drug shortage

To get a better understanding of what factors are contributing to the ongoing drug shortages, Targeted Oncology referenced 2022 data published by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). As investigated by the University of Utah Drug Information Service, the research broke down causes of the shortages as reported by drug manufacturers themselves. More than half would not disclose a reason or stated that the cause was unknown. Nineteen percent of respondents pointed to supply and demand issues, while 18% reported manufacturing issues as the cause. Business decisions accounted for 5% of answers, and raw material use and regulatory issues each earned 1% of responses.

Such findings appear to be in line with theories surrounding the current cancer drug shortage, as some experts point to a lack of manufacturer funding and inadequate manufacturing practices both within the U.S. and overseas as contributing factors (per NBC News). As a result, some cancer patients have had to undergo surgery without supplemental treatment of chemotherapy drugs, which often boosts success rates of surgical outcomes. Others have had to endure months-long waiting lists for these necessary medications (via Targeted Oncology).

To help mitigate the effects of critical drug shortages, the FDA is in the process of drafting new protocols, in which drug manufacturers would need to alert officials at least six months prior to an impending shortage or drug discontinuation.