MD Anderson physician urges Congress to focus on generic drug pipeline to curb shortage of cancer drugs

With 16 cancer drugs currently on the FDA's drug shortage list, Jason Westin, MD, the director of Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center's Lymphoma Clinical Research Program, section chief for Aggressive Lymphoma, told the Senate Finance Committee Dec. 5 that "providers shouldn't have to make impossible choices about patient care."

Shortages create an impossible choice for providers, he explained, when oncologists must decide to go outside of normal solutions and therapies to treat their patients. 

Dr. Westin spoke on behalf of the Association for Clinical Oncology, which also wrote a letter to Congress on the same issue. 

In his testimony, Dr. Westin proposed several solutions to lawmakers, including that HHS could "incentivize the creation of private sector reserves of essential medicines, medical devices, and supplies," and emphasized how the U.S. should work to strengthen its generic drug pipelines since "most oncology drugs in shortage are old, generic injectables that sell for anywhere from $1 to $8 per dose, leaving these drugs with slim profit margins, sometimes to the point of production costs exceeding the selling price," he explained. 

He noted that lawmakers can also introduce legislation that would encourage drugmakers to adopt more advanced technology for manufacturing with incentives like tax credits, and that they could also incentivize purchasers to rework contracts to promote transparency in the supply chain and maintain a reliable supply of key medicines. 

"The proposed solutions are immediate steps toward a comprehensive solution. We recognize concerns around increased costs to the health care system. But we will pay a greater long-term cost in the form of delayed or denied care if we do not address underlying economic forces driving shortages of generic drugs," Dr. Westin said. "The shortage of critical cancer drugs is an urgent crisis. My patients, and their families, deserve to know that they will get the care they need without delay."

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