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'Every drop of chemotherapy' drugs being used during national shortage, Md. doctor says

FILE PHOTO - Patient in a hospital. (7News/File)
FILE PHOTO - Patient in a hospital. (7News/File)
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Fourteen cancer treatment drugs are in short supply, according to the Food and Drug Administration, adding to a growing list of medications either unavailable, back ordered, or difficult to come by across the country.

Dr. Amanda Fader, professor of gynecology obstetrics and oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine told 7News Health and Wellness Reporter Victoria Sanchez pharmacists are using innovative techniques to make sure “every drop of chemotherapy” is used.

The chemotherapy medication scarcity is much like the amoxicillin shortage last fall, she explained. The liquid is a commonly prescribed medication for children. According to the FDA Drug Shortage Database, amoxicillin oral powder for suspension has been in a state of shortage since October 2022. Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture amoxicillin cite increased demand for the shortage reason.

“This is becoming a public health crisis. Imagine if like 12 or 14 antibiotics were all on shortage at the same time. This is what we’re dealing with in cancer medicine now,” Dr. Fader explained.

The American Society of Hospital Pharmacists (ASHP) broke down data from the University of Utah Drug Information Service and identified chemo as one of the top five drugs on active shortage lists.

“The reason for the shortage is multifactorial. The generic drug market in which many chemotherapy drugs that are available as generic injectable formulations, and pharmaceutical companies are not necessarily incentivized to invest a lot in manufacturing these drugs because they don’t generate much profit for the companies,” Dr. Fader said. “It leaves multiple manufacturers in a difficult position from a business perspective.”

She added that market consolidation, where fewer companies are manufacturing specific chemotherapy drugs, is a growing issue.

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“So, if one of those companies for example goes offline with production from either labor or manufacturing issues, it really puts a strain on the supply chain,” she said.

A third issue is many of the raw materials needed for production are purchased internationally. A backlog overseas means a problem here at home.

Johns Hopkins created a task force at the hospital made up of oncologists, pharmacists, nurses, patient advocates and administrators to put in place a plan to make sure patients are kept on track with treatments.

“We create policy so that we’re using chemotherapy responsibly so we can minimize waste and we can preserve and extend the chemotherapy drug supply,” said Dr. Fader.

As the President-Elect of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, she is involved with the national effort surrounding drug shortages. While the issue is concerning, it is not yet dire.

“I’m not hearing from colleagues around the country, and certainly not at Johns Hopkins, that there’s any waitlists right now for treatment,” Dr. Fader told Sanchez.

Johns Hopkins and other institutions have developed alternative drug guidelines if there is a critical shortage of chemotherapy drugs.

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“The good news is that in many cases these alternative drugs are going to be just as affective as the standard of care drugs. They may have different side effect profiles, they may be given on a different dosing schedule, but we can expect to see good results.”

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