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Shortage in treatments for pediatric cancer patients

Posted at 12:49 PM, Oct 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-28 18:04:08-04

There's a push to prevent pediatric cancer drug shortages resulting in the rationing of doses, and in some cases delayed treatment for cancer patients nationwide.

"We can't expect the industry to police itself. We need Congress to step in," said Roswell Pediatric Oncology Chair, Dr. Kara Kelly.

In a bipartisan letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar led by Rep. Brian Higgins and signed by fellow House Cancer Caucus co-chairs Reps. Peter King (NY-02), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) said "children with cancer and their families face too many challenges as it is; they should not also have to bear the worry, fear and frustration that comes with knowing a drug that could help their child exists, but it inaccessible due to a shortage.”

Higgins said the drugs impacted are often ones not profitable by its manufacture.

“It’s scary to go through something like this. It adds stress to an already overwhelmingly stressful situation,” said Katie Tingley of Bradford, Pa., whose five-year-old son, Alex, had his treatment for acute leukemia interrupted because of the shortage. “When the thing that is supposed to help your child is not available, it’s terrifying.”

The national drug shortage largely impacts patients who need erwinaze and vincristine.

But, there are other shortages, according to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center Chief Pharmacy Officer Dr. Lijian Cai. Cai said there are over 200 known nationwide medication shortages. Of these, about 150 are available for use by pediatric patients. Twenty-two medications are on critical shortage at Roswell Park with no access to supplies beyond the stock on hand. The medications range from antibiotics to life saving cardiac treatments, and several oncology products. An additional ten medications are on intermittent shortage at Roswell Park including intravenous immune globulin (IVIG), a plasma product used in those with weakened immune systems, including bone marrow transplant recipients and patients with leukemia or Kawasaki disease, to reduce the chance of infection.

According to the National Cancer Institute, “Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%. For acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the 5-year survival rate has increased over the same time from 60% to approximately 90% for children younger than 15 years and from 28% to more than 75% for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years. Yet due to the rise of drug shortages, over the past 10 years, 8 of the 10 drugs used in treating the most common childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, were temporarily unavailable.