Area Cancer Patients and Doctors Impacted by National Drug Shortages

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By Lisa Adams

A nationwide shortage of several cancer drugs is impacting treatment for patients across the nation, including those treated at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

The shortages are forcing doctors to look for alternatives to help their patients battle cancer.

Dr. David Seastone, DO, Phd, an oncologist at UPMC Hillman in Erie said it’s not an easy process, especially when a there’s a shortage of a drug that is working very well for a patient. “So it’s a difficult conversation, I usually explain to the patient that we’re going to use the best available agents but right now some agents aren’t available,” Dr. Seastone said.

One drug in short supply, Pluvicto, used to treat advanced prostate cancer is not expected to be widely available again for months. And there are several other drug shortages affecting treatment of other cancers. “There’s been an impact in breast cancers, in treatment of lung cancers, and in treatment of bladder cancers with shortages in drugs like naplaxataxil or abraxine,” Dr. Seastone said.

If a patient can’t get the chemo drug that works best for them, and ends up on a wait list for it, studies show that the chances of beating the cancer may decline. “Every month that there’s a delay in cancer treatment it can impact a patient’s success by about 10%,” Dr. Seastone said.

Frustrating oncologists even more, is a lack of information on what exactly is causing the shortages. Norvartis, manufacturer of Pluvicto told NBC that the issue for them is supply chain related.

But industry experts also cite a lack of investment in generic drugs for the shortages, especially for drugs that are not very profitable for manufacturers. Dr. Seastone agrees. “There’s not that much of a financial incentive to manufacture these older drugs,” he said.

For now, UPMC Hillman doctors say they are presenting their patients with the best options available. “It might push us toward going into a surgery or doing a radiation treatment first, rather than starting with a chemotherapy approach.”

Still, Dr. Seastone said he has some hope that supplies will catch up with demand. He said most drug shortages in the past have been temporary problems.


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