Why a life-saving drug for children is in short supply


(CBS Newspath) — A life-saving drug for children is in short supply. VinCRIStine treats a myriad of childhood cancers, but now some hospitals are having a hard time getting their hands on it and may be forced to cut doses or even ration it.

15-year-old Lily Aldred has battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia since January, relying on the chemotherapy drug VinCRIStine for treatment. Jenni Aldred is Lily’s mother. She says the drug is extremely critical to her daughter’s treatment. “The protocol for ALL is very set in stone,” she says. “Missing or not being able to have one of those chemos can be detrimental. It can throw a kid into relapse,” she says.

VinCRIStine is now in short supply because this summer the pharmaceutical company Teva announced it would stop making the drug due to “business reasons.” Teva was one of only two suppliers of the drug, which has no alternative. Dr. Rabi Hanna is the chairman of the department of pediatric hematology-oncology at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. He says, “This is really going to cost lives if we don’t act as a nation to solve this problem.” He says shortages of VinCRIStine will force doctors to make tough choices. “We feel it is unethical to be in a situation when we have to ration our drug and say this is the family, this is the cancer that needs medication or this is the patient who needs it,” he says.

Since 1963, VinCRIStine has been critical in treating most childhood cancers including leukemias, lymphomas, and brain tumors. Pfizer, now the only supplier of the drug, says it’s scaling up production. The Food and Drug Administration says shortages are expected until December or January.

“If you don’t understand where us as parents stand, come walk the halls of a children’s oncology unit and you will understand why this is so important to us,” Jenni Aldred says. Lily’s cancer is in remission and her doctors say she still needs a final round of chemo to prevent a relapse. Her mom hopes that treatment is not interrupted.

Dr. Hanna says affected patients and their families should be sending emails and letters to the FDA.

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