DES PERES, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- It’s a vital drug in the fight against childhood cancer. Vincristine has been around for decades, but today it’s in short supply.
A Des Peres mom told News 4 she’s concerned about how it could impact her son.
Libby Powers’ son Auggie was diagnosed with leukemia nearly three years ago.
“It’s all he knows. He was three when he was diagnosed,” Powers said.
Vincristine has been a regular part of his chemotherapy treatment, and called the drug essential to her son’s survival.
Vincristine has been a staple of chemo the entire time,” Powers said.
Dr. Robert Hayashi is a pediatric oncologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
“Many of the agents that we use to treat childhood cancer have been used for many years and are therefore on generic status. Many companies decide not to produce these drugs because they can’t make it work financially,” Hayashi said.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, one of the manufacturers, TEVA, discontinued production of Vincristine based on a business decision.
The FDA claims shortages can be expected through December and January.
Pfizer is currently the only supplier of Vincristine, and according to the company, it recently scaled up production to meet demand.
“Auggie’s doctor has reassured us that they have enough,” Powers said. “I know there are places absolutely do not and kids are going without chemo because there’s not enough.”
We checked with local hospitals and here’s what they had to say.
According to Mercy: "Mercy currently has the cancer drug, Vincristine, in supply and will continue to treat patients as needed. We are aware of the nationwide shortage of the curative drug. We are evaluating our existing supply, and we are putting plans in place to adjust our use of this medication should the need arise. Mercy is hopeful the manufacturer will be able to meet the U.S. demand for all cancer patients."
At SSM: "We pride ourselves in providing the best care possible to all of our patients at SSM Health. We are aware there is a national shortage from the manufacturers of a vincristine, and the entire team at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital is working diligently to ensure quality, replacement medications and treatment products are ready and available for our patients. Our oncology and pharmacy leadership are closely monitoring the availability of this product and will continue to provide the exceptional care all of our patients deserve."
According to St. Louis Children’s Hospital they are "not having any issues providing vincristine treatment to our patients."
Dr. Hayashi said shortages can lead to difficult choices.
“Sometimes we have to make tough decisions in terms of how the drug is used. Sometimes there will be situations where we have to choose a substitute,” Hayashi said.
TEVA provided a statement to News 4 about their decision to stop manufacturing Vincristine.
“Teva takes very seriously the importance of vincristine. We also understand the passion and pain that parents and patients may feel but it’s important to appreciate the facts.
When Teva decided to stop manufacturing vincristine in the US, the company was only supplying 3% of the market. The remaining 97% was coming from the manufacturer of the brand product. Based on this lack of demand for the Teva product at the time, and to enable us to re-adjust our limited resources to make other life-saving products needed in the market, Teva decided to discontinue vincristine and alerted FDA of its decision in March 2019. With the data that was available, there was no indication of a possibility of a shortage if the company left the market and availability of Teva product has not contributed to the shortage that is being experienced today.
We do not take elimination of any of products lightly and we always carefully evaluate the need as thoroughly as possible (though we are generally not privy to the supply challenges that other manufacturers may be having). We are looking at any and all options to contribute to the solution now that we have been made aware that the brand product is in short supply.”