June 2, 2012

Drug Shortages Causing Concern

A decreasing number of generic drug makers due to mergers within the pharmaceutical industry is being blamed for a shortage in many different types of medicines, including some cancer drugs, Anna Yukhananov of Reuters reported on Friday.

According to Yukhananov, there are a couple of hundred different types of medicine that are currently facing shortages at medical facilities such as Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital, including nausea and nutrition drugs, infection treatments, diarrhea pills, and anesthetics, as well as leukemia and breast cancer treatments. The diminishing supply of these and other drugs is expected to be a major topic during this weekend's annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, Illinois, she added.

"Health officials blame the shortages on industry consolidation that has left only a handful of generic manufacturers of these drugs, even as the number of drugs going off patent is growing," Yukhananov said. "Some drugmakers have been plagued by manufacturing problems that have shut down multiple plants or production lines, while others have stopped producing a treatment when profit margins erode too far."

"Some medicines have been periodically short in the past, doctors and pharmacists say, but the number of drug shortages has escalated in recent years, jumping from 56 in 2006 to 250 last year, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration figures," she added. "Generic drugmakers“¦ say they are building new facilities to prevent future shortages. But in the meantime, pharmacies around the country are counting pills, begging neighboring hospitals for extra supplies and scouring the Internet for news of additional supply disruptions."

In related news, on May 30, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, which helps establish a warning system in which drug manufacturers must notify the government if they anticipate a supply shortage.

The House version of the bill passed by a 387-5, while a similar but separate version of the law was approved 96-1 by the Senate on May 24, American Medical News Jennifer Lubell reports. Differences in the two version of the legislation must be ironed out before it can be sent to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

The move was applauded by the American Medical Association (AMA).

“National drug shortages threaten patients, compromising their ability to access the drugs they need when they need them,” AMA President Dr. Peter W. Carmel said following the passage of the Senate bill, according to Lubell. "The AMA is pleased that the Senate has passed legislation to address this issue and that the bill also includes provisions to incentivize the development of next-generation antibiotics."