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Drugs for Curing Cancer are Running out Slowly

By: Zerlina Tang

During May of 2023, doctors and patients are facing a crisis of the lack of drugs of treating as many as 500,000 new cancer cases every year. Cisplatin and carboplatin, two cheap drugs, are running out, and right now, the doctors are using all the drugs they have left just for cancer patients, but the supply of it is running out.

Cisplatin and carboplatin, some of the drugs that are used to cure cancer, are among a number of pharmaceuticals in low supply, including 12 additional cancer therapies, ADHD medications, blood thinners, and antibiotics. Experts concur that the major reason of the problem is the underlying fragility of the generic medication sector, which stems from supply chain concerns left over from the COVID crisis. This drug problem isn’t a new case either. But what about the thousands of cancer patients who are now unable to obtain cisplatin, a medicine authorized by the FDA in 1978 and costing as low as $6 per dose? “All day, in between patients, we hold staff meetings trying to figure this out. It’s the most nauseous I’ve ever felt. Our office stayed open during COVID; we never had to stop treating patients. We got them vaccinated, kept them safe, and now I can’t get them a $10 drug,” said Dr. Moore, who’s an oncologist in Fredericksburg, Va.

The causes of shortages are widely understood. Everyone wants to spend less, and the intermediaries that acquire and distribute generics continue to drive wholesale costs down.

According to Anthony Sardella, a management professor at Washington University in St. Louis, the average net price of generic pharmaceuticals declined by more than half between 2016 and 2022. Profits are falling as generics makers compete for sales contracts with large customers like as wholesale purchasers Vizient and Premier. Some companies are going out of business. Akorn, which manufactured 75 popular generics, declared bankruptcy and shuttered its doors in February. And this is the main reason why hospitals are running out of these drugs that can cure cancer.

During the week of May 16, physicians at Moore's practice in Virginia delivered 60% of the recommended dose of carboplatin to some uterine cancer patients, then increased to 80% after a minor supply arrived the next week. She said that the doctors had to omit carboplatin from normal combination treatments for patients with recurrent disease. “Carboplatin did NOT come back in stock today. Neither did cisplatin,” was what she emailed KFF news.

This is becoming an anxious situation for everyone. “It’s just a travesty that this is the level of health care in the United States of America right now,” an oncologist in Hot Springs, Ark, Dr. Divers, said. Without any cure, things are going to the downside. The situation is getting worse as the drug is slowly running out.

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