Supply of drug used to treat cancer running low

June 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Cancer patients across the country are getting devastating news: Clinics are running out of Paclitaxel, often known as Taxol, a mainstay drug used in chemotherapy for breast and ovarian cancer patients.

While doctors are split on whether profit is to blame, patients fear for their future.

Marylou Kendrick did not get the last dose of Taxol because four out of the five companies that produce it say they're running short.

One of those manufacturers say the drug is on back order and cannot estimate a release date. Medical experts say worst-case scenarios could soon become a reality.

"We may experience deaths in some patients because of these drug shortages," said Cynthia Reilly with the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.

"This is not where the money is, and it does paint a very unfavorable picture of the industry," said Dr. Joseph Leach with the Minnesota Society of Oncologists.

Some doctors suspect that, because the drug is generic and have low profit margins, companies have no motive to make more. Others don't suspect it -- they say that's exactly the problem.

"There has to be an incentive for the folks making these drugs to continue producing them," said Dr. Neal Meropol, the Chief of Hematology and Oncology at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

Drug companies are not required to tell the Food and Drug Administration when a drug is in short supply, which is why many doctors and patients are just now learning that supplies are running low.

"When the FDA knows, they have been able to effectively avert, or minimize, the impact of the shortage," Reilly said.

That didn't happen in Kendrick's case, who is now fighting cancer and fighting to see a few more days.

"Because I have a great grandson that's due next month, I have to be around to see him," Kendrick said.

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