Critical pediatric cancer drug shortage creating 'a nightmare'

A critical chemotherapy medication that serves is a primary treatment for most childhood cancers has become increasingly scarce, according to The New York Times.

The drug, vincristine, is used to treat leukemias, lymphomas and brain tumors. Physicians say that the shortage of this chemotherapy drug is uniquely problematic because there is no appropriate alternative.

Physicians also are warning that supply has been so hard to find that they may soon be forced to ration doses.

"This is truly a nightmare situation," said Yoram Unguru, MD, a pediatric oncologist at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore, told The New York Times. "Vincristine is our water. It’s our bread and butter. I can’t think of a disease in childhood cancer that doesn’t use vincristine."

There used to be two suppliers of vincristine, Pfizer and Teva Pharmaceuticals. However, earlier this year, Teva decided to discontinue production of the drug, making Pfizer the sole supplier. 

The FDA told The New York Times that Pfizer has run into manufacturing issues, but it is working to improve the availability of the cancer drug. 

Pfizer said it is working to speed up shipments of vincristine in the next few weeks to "support three to four times our typical production output." 

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