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Shortage of Leukemia Drug Cytarabine Serious as Some Hospitals Turn Patients Away And They Will Die Without the Drug

Posted Apr 15 2011 10:49am

There is no alternative treatment to be used for the drug.  Oncologists across the country are concerned and some of the hospitals that are turning patients away or having scarce supplies include the City of Hope, Cedars Sinai, Johns Hopkins and Massachusetts General Hospital.  There’s quite a number on the list. 

Injectable drugs seem to be the main target of shortages and even with generics they are expensive to produce and don’t yield any profit, so companies stop making them.  When you think of Propofol, the most heavily used drug for anesthesia with surgery, last year we went from 2 US manufacturers to none and it all comes from Germany now.  BD 

So far, oncologists in 30 states have reported a shortage of cytarabine , a drug that is key to treating certain types of leukemia. The situation, doctors say, is dire.

"If we can't get the drug, then the patients are going to die," said Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, chairman of the Department of Leukemia at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

For patients with AML who take cytarabine, the drug is the difference between a shot at life and certain death.

"Since its introduction, we can claim cures in 40 to 50 percent of patients," said Kantarjian. "Without the drug in the treatment regimen, the rate is zero."

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore said it only had a two-week supply. "We are really worried if we get a new patient with AML -- that will be very hard to keep up with."


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