Doctors Concerned About Shortage of Childhood Cancer Treatment Drug

The drug in question in Vincristine, a chemotherapy drug used to treat most childhood cancers.

A critical drug that treats most childhood cancers is back-ordered, and doctors in Connecticut are concerned about how it may affect the hundreds of children in the state undergoing treatment.

“I believe that Vincristine was one of the drugs that helped save my son’s life,” Lisa Duffy from Old Saybrook told NBC Connecticut.

Duffy’s son, Luciano, was just 18 months old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia.

“It was a whirlwind of emotion and fear and uncertainty,” Duffy said.

Today, Luciano has been cancer-free for 15 years, and is now a freshman at Drexel University. But Lisa says hearing the news of the Vincristine shortage brought back tough memories for their family.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done if I couldn’t get my hands on that medication,” said Duffy.

Every year, around 250 children in the state of Connecticut are diagnosed with cancer.

Dr. Michael Isakoff and his team at Connecticut Children’s treat over 100 of them a year.

“I would estimate that about 80 percent of our patients get some form of Vincristine at some point in during their therapy,” explained Isakoff, who is the clinical director at the hospital’s Division of Hematology & Oncology.

At the moment, Isakoff estimates the hospital’s pharmacy has enough of the chemotherapy drug stocked up to last them about two months.

But what happens after that if the shortage isn’t addressed quickly is something he says he can’t even imagine.

“We completely rely on Vincristine,” Isakoff said. “Our patients rely on it. It’s a critical drug to the treatment of children with cancer.”

Teva Pharmaceutical made a generic version of Vincristine until discontinuing it this past July.

They provided a statement to NBC Connecticut, saying in part, “Availability of Teva product has not contributed to the shortage that is being experienced today.”

But Pfizer Inc., which makes the name brand of the drug, told NBC Connecticut that “due to a competitors outage” Pfizer is “expediting additional shipments of this critical product over the next few weeks to support three to four times the typical production part.”

Isakoff said Vincristine has been used since the late 60s.

NBC Connecticut also reaches out to The Yale New Haven Hospital regarding the shortage. A spokesperson for the hospital and the Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Centers said they have enough of the drug to last them through the end of November.

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