The U.S. is experiencing a shortage of a critical drug that’s seen as an important component in treating several types of childhood cancers, leaving doctors scrambling, according to The New York Times.
Continue Reading Below
The anti-cancer chemotherapy drug Vincristine has become increasingly scarce since one of only two suppliers stopped production in July.
After Teva Pharmaceutical Industries made the "business decision to discontinue the product," according to the Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer was left as the sole supplier.
Shortages can leave -- as in this case -- as little as one company to supply a drug in the United States, forcing its factories to run at peak production in order to turn a profit and to provide sufficient supply. According to the report, shortages "tend disproportionately to involve older, generic injectable drugs, which are difficult to manufacture but command low prices."
Vincristine is used to treat cancers including acute leukemia, Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, neuroblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing's sarcoma, Wilms' tumor, multiple myeloma, chronic leukemias, thyroid cancer and brain tumors. It is also used to treat some blood disorders.
According to the report, although drug shortages have plagued the U.S. for years, the loss of this drug is in particular "a nightmare" because it has no appropriate substitute.
“Vincristine is our water. It’s our bread and butter. I can’t think of a disease in childhood cancer that doesn’t use vincristine," Dr. Yoram Unguru, a pediatric oncologist at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore told the outlet.
Teva's withdrawal from manufacturing has caused a backlog which will likely impact children throughout the United States, according to Unguru, adding that without the drug, patients will either have to "skip a dose or give a lower dose — or beg, borrow or plead.”
“Pfizer has experienced a delay, and we are working closely with them and exploring all options to make sure this critical cancer drug is available for the patients who need it," the FDA said.
"Drug shortages can adversely affect drug therapy, compromise or delay medical procedures, and result in medication errors," according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists which tracks over 200 drugs in short supply.
When drug shortages occur, usually caused in part by manufacturing and quality problems, delays, and/or discontinuations, the FDA will work closely with manufacturers to prevent or reduce the impact of those shortages.
A spokeswoman for Pfizer told the Times the company would expedite additional shipments of the drug to “support three to four times our typical production output.”
Pfizer and Teva did not immediately respond to FOX Business' request for comment.