Childhood Cancer

Kids with Cancer Shouldn’t Have to Worry about Drug Shortages

by Kathleen Ruddy, CEO, St. Baldrick's Foundation
October 16, 2019

Kids with cancer and their families are in a constant state of worry. While we can’t always ease those burdens, we can prevent them from worrying about whether their lifesaving medication will be available. We must do more to prevent drug shortages.

Over the past decade, pediatric cancer drug shortages have become more and more common. The most recent is a widely used chemotherapy drug called Vincristine. Vincristine is a sterile generic injectable that has been approved to treat children with cancer for over 5 decades. It is utilized by nearly every child with cancer and is a critical component of treatment regimens for children with leukemias, lymphoma, brain tumors, bone tumors, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, and rhabdomyosarcoma.

Doctors and families are particularly concerned about the Vincristine shortage because there is no alternative or recommended substitute for the drug. Given the lack of a comparable replacement, doctors will be forced to ration the drug by either skipping or lowering doses. The shortage is already causing pediatric oncologists to alter clinical trial treatment protocols and even delay trial enrollments.

For years, Vincristine was manufactured by both Teva Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer. In July, Teva notified the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they planned to discontinue the drug leaving a single manufacturer responsible for the entire U.S. supply. Pfizer has encountered a manufacturing delay but is working to produce additional shipments to try to address the shortfall. Pfizer recently notified the FDA that they hope to rectify the problem by the end of October, but that there may be significant supply problems that could last until the end of the year.

St. Baldrick’s is committed to helping solve the childhood cancer drug shortage crisis. We are already working with our champions on Capitol Hill on longer-term solutions and continue to work with the broader childhood cancer community on advocacy solutions to encourage the government to do more to guarantee safe, uninterrupted and sufficient cancer drug supplies for children in the United States.

For any family that is currently having difficulty obtaining vincristine for your child, the FDA recommends that you contact them at drugshortages@fda.hhs.gov.

Read the letter from Dr. Peter Adamson, Chair of the Children’s Oncology Group, to the childhood cancer community on steps to resolve the shortage.


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