'Extremely concerning' chemo shortage persists despite FDA's efforts, national cancer group reports

While the White House recently touted the FDA’s efforts to mitigate the ongoing chemotherapy shortage in the U.S., a recent survey by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) shows that many treatment centers do not have enough supply of key medicines.

NCCN surveyed 29 of its member institutions throughout the month of September and found that 72% of centers are still experiencing a carboplatin shortage, while 59% are short on cisplatin. 

The report is a follow-up to a June survey evaluating supply levels of the key platinum-based chemotherapies carboplatin and cisplatin. The June survey showed that 93% of centers were experiencing a carboplatin shortage, while 70% were low on cisplatin.

“It is extremely concerning that this situation continues despite significant attention and effort over the past few months,” NCCN’s CEO Robert Carlson, M.D., said in a statement. “We need enduring solutions in order to safeguard people with cancer and address any disparities in care.”

Crucially, nearly all of the centers surveyed remain able to treat patients with a carboplatin or cisplatin regimen. They're doing this largely by setting “strict waste management strategies,” according to NCCN’s update.

Still, the new results serve as a stark reminder that the shortage is by no means lifted.

Just a few weeks ago, the White House outlined several measures the FDA has taken to address the shortages. Those efforts included allowing the importation of 14 lots of cisplatin from a foreign facility and collaborating with manufacturers to find opportunities to increase capacity.

The measures improved the supply of both drugs, the Biden administration said, but officials also acknowledged there was "more work to do.”

Even if nationwide supply is increasing, an access issue is still at play. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)’s chief medical officer Julie Gralow, M.D., a “certain set” of clinics is unable to re-up their drug supplies, she said in an interview.

Those centers are typically smaller sites, reflecting the disproportionate impact the shortage has had on patients based on factors such as location or socioeconomic status, she said. While larger hospitals may have the meds on hand, they often can't or won’t transfer them to smaller clinics because of legal reasons, leaving patients who are unable to travel still unable to receive treatment.