Cancer drug shortages hurt care

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Shortages of medicines for some of the most common cancers have caused nearly half of doctors to delay treatment and forced about a third to choose between patients needing a particular drug.

The findings from a survey of 250 cancer doctors highlight the anxious situation some patients faced during the past year as manufacturing lapses and changes in the generic-drug industry have cut off supply of key medicines, said Keerthi Gogineni, a cancer doctor who presented the finding in Chicago at the meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

More than 80 percent of cancer doctors surveyed said they’ve been unable to get needed medications, including potentially life-saving drugs. While the Food and Drug Administration said it is close to resolving the scarcity, cancer doctors said they expect a continuation of shortages that have forced them to ration treatments or turn to more expensive alternatives.

“Oncologists are being asked to improvise despite the fact that this has been going on since 2006. We know this is a problem that isn’t going away,” said Gogineni.

The survey asked doctors about their experience with shortages over 12 months ending March 2013. Seventy-eight percent treated patients with a different drug or regimen because of a shortage while 43 percent delayed a patient’s treatment. Shortages caused 29 percent to skip doses and 37 percent had to choose which patient would be treated.

In some cases, the shortages have driven up costs as more expensive drugs are used, said Gogineni.

Legislation passed last year that requires drugmakers to notify the agency of potential shortages is fixing the problem, according to the agency.

Last July, President Barack Obama signed the law requiring drugmakers to notify the FDA if they planned to stop making a product, either permanently or temporarily, or anticipated a shortage because of manufacturing issues.

The FDA has also boosted resources devoted to addressing shortages and has worked with foreign drugmakers 17 times since 2010 to fill the supply void, said Valerie Jensen, the FDA’s associate director, drug shortages.

The FDA has 25 employees working on each medication shortage, she said.

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