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ASCO Leaders Press for Action on Drug Shortage Crisis

Sep 07, 2011

The oncology drug shortage in the United States is at a crisis point. Last year there were over 211 medications in short supply, and those numbers are expected to increase by the end of this year. Since ASCO members first started reporting drug shortages to the organization in the summer of 2010, ASCO has taken a leadership role in crafting solutions and pushing for measures to reduce the impact on patients and practices.

“This is the worst shortage of oncology drugs we’ve seen in 30 years,” said Karen Hagerty, MD, Director of Reimbursement Policy in ASCO’s Cancer Policy & Clinical Affairs Department. “There are a number of different factors causing the shortages, but in large part these shortages are due to manufacturing issues, raw material shortages, and discontinuations,” she said.

Coordinated efforts
Through a coordinated effort involving ASCO, the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP), the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), and the Institute for Safe-Medication Practices (ISMP), ASCO has played a large role in publicly conveying the seriousness of the crisis and potential solutions. Working with these organizations, ASCO convened a summit in November 2010 that issued over 20 recommendations to alleviate the drug shortage problem, includingenhancing communication between drug manufacturers and the FDA and creating incentives for manufacturers to produce more affordable, generic oncology drugs.

With messages and initial recommendations from the summit in place, ASCO was able to effectively work with the media to call national attention to the problem and communicate the Society’s leadership role. Articles in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Reuters, and a story on ABC World News, were among the resulting media coverage.

Efforts on Capitol Hill
Recently, ASCO President Michael P. Link, MD, and other oncology experts spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing onJuly 13, explaining to nearly 200members of Congress and their staffs how widespread cancer drug shortages are creating “a crisis in care.” Dr. Link presented startling statistics that illustrate the growing problem of medications in short supply: “From 1996 to 2003, there was an average of 60 new drug shortages annually. From 2003 until today, there is an average of 150 new shortages each year.” He further explained how 2011 could be the worst year since the problem was first tracked. “Through the middle of June, there are already 156 new drug shortages. If this trend holds through the rest of the year, we must brace ourselves for more than 300 new cases.”

Dr. Link outlined the many consequences shortages have on patients with cancer and oncology practices, including treatment delays, less effective or no work-around therapies, patient anxiety, the time and expense practices waste on finding supply, the adverse effect on ongoing clinical trials, and a price markup that increases the cost of care.

ASCO-supported legislation
ASCO currently backs the Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act, two Congressional bills in debate at the time of publication, which contain recommendations from the November 2010 Drug Shortages Summit co-convened by ASCO :
  • S. 296, introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.)
  • H.R. 2245, introduced by Representatives Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)
“These bills are a good first step in the right direction, but they don’t fix the fundamental problem, and shortages are going to continue to occur,” said Dr. Hagerty. “As long as that happens, ASCO will push for solutions until our members have the ability to provide the best possible patient care.”

ASCO staff Danielle Blake, Aaron Tallent,and Steve Hahn contributed to this article.

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