'So when we can’t give the drug because we just can't get the drug, that's heartbreaking,' says expert
The US is facing a severe shortage of chemotherapy drugs, the fifth most of any drug category, according to data from the University of Utah Drug Information Service.
Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists noted: "The fact that we have this many chemo drugs in shortage is really concerning."
He also said that "unlike some other drugs that also rank among the top five categories for shortages, such as antimicrobials, there aren’t often alternatives for chemotherapy drugs".
He stated that "these shortages are affecting patients with cancer."
"One of the key predictors of how well a patient will respond to treatment is getting a full dose on the right schedule," Ganio added.
"So when we can’t give the drug because we just can't get the drug, that's heartbreaking," he remarked.
The data revealed more than 300 drugs that were in short supply in the US at the end of March, including nearly 50 new shortages that accumulated in the first three months of the year.
The last time active drug shortages – including both newly reported and ongoing – were this high was in 2014, according to the data.
"Shortages are still happening, and they’re not resolving, or they’re not resolving as quickly as new shortages are starting," Michael Ganio noted.
The US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing that discussed the actual causes of the drug shortages Thursday.
Experts noted that some high-profile shortages – such as amoxicillin during the most recent respiratory virus season and Adderall for ADHD – are the exception, despite high demand.
"They don’t really tell the story of drug shortages," Ganio said.
The hearing was focused on drug manufacturing issues and drug market structure, instead of shortages.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was castigated especially for improper inspections, particularly of international facilities that represent more than half of manufacturers that supply the US.
But during the Thursday hearing FDA Commissioner Dr Robert Califf said that the economic issues underlying drug shortages are "not in the purview of the FDA."
He said: "The FDA is plugging holes in the dike, but it’s difficult to motivate change when it’s not profitable for drug companies."
"These drug shortages are becoming more prevalent due to a warped marketplace," said Representative Kathy Castor, ranking member on the subcommittee.
"The current haphazard approach of addressing crisis episode-by-episode is not working to give American families the certainty and the quality of care they need and deserve."
"Each company doesn’t know what the other company’s doing because they’re competing," Dr Cliff said.
“When there’s a shortage in one company, we need to be able to coordinate across these people.”
There is a team outside FDA comprising officials at the White House primarily focusing on bolstering drug supply chains and quality.
A senior official said The team has been meeting for some time and is made up of several White House offices, including the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council.
The official added: "The Biden-Harris Administration remains focused on strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains, including for medical products like pharmaceuticals."