Major chemotherapy drug in critical shortage

Monday, June 6, 2011 - 5:29pm

Some of the top cancer specialists in the country say they have had a difficult time treating patients with leukemia because the one drug to help them save lives has been in critically short supply.

Oncologists say they can successfully treat about 40% of patients with acute myeloid leukemia with the drug Cytarabine when they combine it with other drugs. Without it, they say the cure rate is zero.

Dr. Hagop Kanarijian of the MD Cancer Center states, "The shortages of Cytarabine have, in my opinion, affected life and death situations in the United States over the past 6 months."

The FDA says the shortage has been so severe that there were several weeks earlier this year when there literally wasn't any Cytarabine in production.

Kanarijian further states, "There were committees that had to make decisions to give the drug to one patient over another."

The three U.S. companies that make the drug have cited manufacturing issues and have had to recall some of the medicine because of crystallization in the product.

Cytarabine is a generic drug. Experts point out it's uncommon for more profitable brand name drugs to be in short supply. According to the FDA, those companies are slowly resuming production.

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