Drug Shortages and Social Justice


The following is from LIVESTRONG‘s Sr. Medical Adviser Oncologist Dr. Brandon Hayes-Lattin. LIVESTRONG endorsed a bill that will provide the FDA with improved capacity to prevent drug shortages. LIVESTRONG feels that all people should have access to the care they need and preventing drug shortages is just one way to achieve this goal.

Over the past generation, there have been major success stories in oncology, including the discovery and development of chemotherapy drugs that have transformed some cancers from being nearly universally fatal to highly curable. Two examples used in my day-to-day career include the drugs cytarabine and cisplatin. Cytarabine is the cornerstone drug required for the induction and consolidation treatment of acute myeloid leukemia. Cisplatin is the drug required to cure advanced cancers, including testicular cancer.

However, the availability of many of these tried-and-true drugs to treat cancer, including cytarabine and cisplatin, has become an increasing crisis.

Today, when one of my patients is faced with a new cancer diagnosis that requires a drug in short supply, our team of doctors and pharmacists are left scrambling either to gather drug where available (often at prices that far exceed the standard cost), or to revise an otherwise curative therapy plan to minimize the risk that a delay would reduce that chance for cure. Even harder, physicians and hospitals across the United States are forced to develop triage systems to determine which patients will first receive drugs that are in short supply.

The Food and Drug Administration of the United States maintains a Drug Shortage Program, including a list of drugs currently in short supply. The drugs at greatest risk of shortage are those that are generics, with little financial incentive to maintain back-up capacity.

Curing cancer by delivering therapies we already know to be effective relies on providing a series of basic requirements, many of which we can control. These basic needs include access to the providers and facilities able to administer therapy, blood products from healthy donors to support patients through therapy, and chemotherapy drugs, like cytarabine or cisplatin.

It is time to help industry and government ensure that these shortages stop putting cancer patients at unnecessary risk and avoid missing their opportunity for cure. We must deliver the care we already know to be effective to those in their time of need.

Dr. Brandon Hayes-Lattin
Director, OHSU AYA Oncology Program
Sr. Medical Adviser LIVESTRONG


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