Cancer drug shortage could impact local treatment center

A recent shortage of a chemotherapy drug could have real impacts on patients here. It started when one of two manufacturers of Vincristine decided to discontinue the product.

Vincristine is a chemotherapy medication that is used for a variety of cancers, but especially with pediatric patients. Gundersen Health System said the drug is available for now and is working to make sure the patients who need it will have it.

Almost every day at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, someone is receiving Vincristine at the infusion center.

“It’s used quite frequently here,” said Dr. Jennifer Orozco, pediatric hematologist-oncologist.

Originally approved by the FDA in 1963, it one of the oldest chemo drugs. It kills fast growing cancer cells and it does so effectively, according to Dr. Orozco.

“It is a very important backbone to many types of pediatric cancer treatments,” Orozco said.

But Teva Pharmaceuticals, one of the companies that manufactured the drug, said it notified the Food and Drug Administration in March that it would discontinue production. The FDA posted a discontinuation notice on its website in July.

In a statement, the company said it understands the passion and pain that parents and patients may feel but it’s important to appreciate the facts. However, Teva Pharmaceuticals was supplying 3% of the market at the time it decided to stop manufacturing the medicine. Based on the data that was available there was no indication of a possibility of a shortage if the company left the market.

“We do not take elimination of any of products lightly and we always carefully evaluate the need as thoroughly as possible (though we are generally not privy to the supply challenges that other manufacturers may be having). We are looking at any and all options to contribute to the solution now that we have been made aware that the brand product is in short supply,” said Teva, in a statement.

The company added that the availability of Teva products has not contributed to the current shortage.

“The other company [Pfizer] is not keeping up quite with production. It’s becoming more of an issue,” Orozco said.

Pfizer has reported a shortage. According to the FDA’s website, as of Wednesday, the shortage is expected to last until December 2019 or January 2019. In an email to News 8, a spokesperson said the company is committed to providing this important medicine to patients.

“Due to a competitor’s outage, we are expediting additional shipments of this critical product over the next few weeks to support three to four times our typical production output,” said Pfizer, in a statement.

In general, this type of drug shortage happens from time to time and usually medical providers know about it in advance.

“As an institution, we can know our numbers and what our expected usage will be and hopefully prepare for that,” Orozco said.

Orozco said this is not an emergency situation, but looking down the line it may become more of an issue for patients all over the country.

“But hopefully, knowing the shortage is an issue, the pharmaceutical company will be able to keep up with the demand,” Orozco said.

For now, the medicine is available and Gundersen said it is working to make sure that current and future patients will have enough for treatment. If they needed to, Gundersen would work with other medical providers to get the medicine that is needed.

Get your weather forecast from people that actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.