PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A life-saving drug for children is in short supply. Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s leading pediatric cancer research collaboration, has issued a call to action to guarantee pediatric cancer drug supplies, but some hospitals are having a hard time getting their hands on it and may be forced to cut doses or even ration it.
Doctors say the drug is irreplaceable and a big reason behind the 85% cure rate in pediatric cancer.
Supplies are shaking in some hospitals around the country but locally, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Nemours Dupont say their supplies are good for now.
Fifteen-year-old Lily Aldred is battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and depends on the chemotherapy drug vincristine for treatment.
“Missing or not being able to have one of those chemos can be detrimental, it can throw a kid into relapse,” Lily’s mother Jenni Aldred said.
Vincristine is now in short supply because this summer, the pharmaceutical company Teva said it would stop making the drug because of business shortages.
Teva was one of the only two suppliers of the drug, which has no alternative.
“This is really going to cost lives if we don’t act as a nation to solve this problem,” Dr. Rabi Hanna said.
Doctors say vincristine is used to treat 80% of the 19,000 adolescents diagnosed with cancer each year.
Without it, there would be a direct effect on a significant number of children.
“We feel it is unethical to be in a situation when we have to ration our drug and say this is the family, this is the cancer that needs medication or this is the patient who needs it,” Hanna said.
Pfizer, now the only supplier of the drug, says it’s scaling up production.
The FDA says shortages are expected until December or January.
“If you don’t understand where us as parents stand, come walk the halls of a children’s oncology unit and you will understand why this is so important to us,” Aldred said.
Lily’s cancer is in remission and her doctors say she still needs a final round of chemo to prevent a relapse.
Her mom hopes that treatment is not interrupted.
Since 1963, vincristine has been critical in treating most childhood cancers including leukemias, lymphomas and brain tumors.
Children newly diagnosed with leukemia are given the highest priority if vincristine is scarce, Dr. Peter Adamson, with CHOP, says.
“There is no substitute for vincristine,” Adamson said. “I’m confident we’ll weather this storm.”