Cancer is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the world, affecting millions of people every year. However, many cancer patients face a serious challenge in accessing effective and affordable treatments, especially in the United States, where a record number of cancer drugs are in shortage.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 14 cancer drugs are currently in shortage, affecting thousands of patients who need chemotherapy or immunotherapy to fight their disease . Some of the drugs in shortage are carboplatin and cisplatin, two platinum-based drugs that are used as first-line treatments for a variety of cancers, such as ovarian, breast, lung, head and neck, and testicular cancers . These drugs are essential for improving survival and quality of life for many patients, but they are also scarce and expensive due to supply chain disruptions, manufacturing problems, quality issues, and market forces .
The impact of the cancer drug shortage is not only felt by current patients, but also by future ones. The shortage is hampering cancer research and innovation, as many clinical trials that rely on these drugs are delayed, cancelled, or compromised . Clinical trials are crucial for testing new therapies, finding better ways to use existing drugs, and advancing the scientific knowledge of cancer biology and treatment. However, with the limited availability of cancer drugs, researchers face difficulties in designing, conducting, and completing their studies.
For example, Dr. Shadia Jalal, a medical oncologist and researcher at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that the drug shortage has affected every aspect of her work. She has been involved in several clinical trials that have improved patients' chances of beating their cancer, but she also faced challenges in obtaining the drugs she needed for her studies . She said that some institutions have shut down many new clinical trials that involve drugs in shortage, while others have had to modify their protocols or switch to alternative drugs that may have less efficacy or more side effects .
The drug shortage also affects the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the federal government's main agency for cancer research and training. The NCI said that at least 174 of its own trials may be affected by the shortage . However, this number does not account for other trials that rely on these drugs or possible trials that researchers would like to start but can't. The NCI said that it is working with the FDA, drug manufacturers, and other stakeholders to mitigate the impact of the shortage on its research programs .
The cancer drug shortage is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires urgent and coordinated action from all parties involved. Some possible solutions include increasing production capacity, diversifying supply sources, improving quality control, enhancing regulatory oversight, incentivizing drug development, ensuring fair pricing and reimbursement, prioritizing allocation based on clinical need, and promoting collaboration and communication among stakeholders . These solutions may not be easy or quick to implement, but they are necessary to ensure that cancer patients and researchers have access to the drugs they need to save lives and advance science.
 M. Kopf and C. Beck, "Cancer drug shortages: 14 medicines now in short supply, according to FDA," NBC News , May 26 , 2023. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/cancer-drug-shortages-14-medicines-now-short-supply-fda-says-rcna86106
 J. Christensen , "Drug shortages’ effects on cancer research may be felt for years to come," CNN , July 20 , 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/07/20/health/drug-shortage-cancer-research/index.html
 A. S. Kesselheim et al., "Oncology Drug Shortages: Causes , Consequences , And Policy Responses," Journal of Clinical Oncology , vol. 40 , no. 8 , pp. 875-883 , March 10 , 2023.
 National Cancer Institute , "Drug Shortages Affecting NCI-Supported Clinical Trials," July 15 , 2023. https://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/budget/plan/drug-shortages