Toronto, Ontario — Shortages of critical cancer-fighting drugs have impacted 83% of U.S. oncologists in the past six months.* Around the world, doctors are negotiating availability, access and funding for the infusions they most want to prescribe. The problem isn’t unique to cancer care – in fact, all fields of medicine have been effected by drug shortages, which have limited supplies of everything from ADHD medications to painkillers – but oncology has been hit especially hard because many of the shortages involve sterile injectable drugs.
Most of the shortages (2/3) of cancer-fighting agents have been caused by quality assurance challenges in a few older plants that produce generic drugs. When manufacturers spotted issues, they quickly stopped production, but once that line is stopped, catching up becomes very difficult.
Whatever the cause, the human impact of a drug shortage can be overwhelming. Doctors have had to stop or delay treatment or even enter patients in lotteries for drugs. For the people who hear that news, disbelief can quickly turn into anger – with all the other challenges they’re facing, how can it possibly be that they can’t get a potentially life-saving drug.
Everyone from industry to government is working to try to improve consistency in drug availability, but one advocacy group in Canada is taking an unusual approach, using transparency to earn action.
The Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada recently launched cancerdrugaccess.ca, a website that curates access to and funding for cancer treatments. It also shows each drugs usage by type of cancer and date of approval by Health Canada.
The rudimentary first-phase of the site is designed to uncover inequities between the provinces and empower patients and providers alike with the information to either fight access challenges or find where specific drugs are readily available.
People in Canada are already following drugs that are in short supply. It’s not uncommon to see someone who needs access to a particular agent move to a province that has it available and wait out the 3-month residency requirement to start treatment.
As the site continues to grow, its founders hope to crowdsource more access and availability information from patients and cancer advocacy groups.
* A survey of 245 doctors presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June 2013
Posted by: Leigh Householder