Vincristine Shortages Expected to Continue Into 2020

The U.S. is experiencing a shortage of the chemotherapy drug vincristine, a critical treatment for leukemias, lymphomas, and brain tumors in adult and pediatric patients that was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1963. The shortage is particularly debilitating because there is no alternative drug.

The drug was on backorder until late October due to manufacturing delays. Deliveries resumed in late October, but the FDA anticipates that shortages will continue through December.

Pfizer is the only remaining supplier of vincristine. The company has attempted to scale up production since Teva Pharmaceuticals, previously the other supplier, made a business decision to discontinue the drug in July 2019.

The impact this will have on adults and children with acute lymphocytic leukemia or other cancers is still unclear. In a statement issued by the Children’s Oncology Group, Peter C. Adamson, MD, issued a call to action, proposing several solutions to prevent similar shortages in the future. These include the “establishment and maintenance of a national stockpile of key cancer drugs [and] the U.S. government purchasing contracts that provide a guaranteed buyer and may help stabilize a fragile market.”

Some of these solutions, however, may not be feasible, according to Sharona Hoffman, JD, professor of law and bioethics and codirector of the law-medicine center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. “The government can’t go in and dictate which drugs a company must produce,” she told Forbes. “You can create lists – that’s fine – but taking that leap of asking the government to ensure supply is difficult. We have a free market; the government can’t force a business to make this or that drug.”

Sources: The New York Times, October 14, 2019; Forbes, October 16, 2019; FDA statement, October 16, 2019.