U.S. Blames Drug Shortages on Low Prices and a ‘Broken Marketplace’

That was a disappointment to doctors on the front lines of care, especially those treating children with cancer.

“The government has previously stepped into the marketplace to assist the ailing automotive industry, Wall Street and the insurance companies,” said Dr. Yoram Unguru, who treats children with cancer at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore.

“Why not do the same for our ailing health care system, specifically the manner in which lifesaving medications are manufactured and distributed?”

Essential medications should be viewed as “critical infrastructure, not unlike public utilities such as electricity and water,” Dr. Unguru added. Preventable cancer drug shortages “are unacceptable and ethically unjustifiable,” he said.

A shortage of a generic cancer drug, vincristine, has panicked parents in recent weeks and sent doctors scrambling to secure supplies. Vincristine is the backbone of treatment for many childhood cancers and is critical in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer.

But the solutions proposed in the federal report, if put in place, may not have any impact in the near term, said Dr. Peter C. Adamson, chair of the Children’s Oncology Group, and “fall short in ensuring that today’s children with cancer will not continue to be placed at risk.”

A spokeswoman for Pfizer, the sole supplier of vincristine in the United States, said that the company believed deliveries would meet patient needs through the end of the year, and that the company expected to fully recover from the shortage by January.

“In terms of filling orders, it depends on the date of the order, the level of customer inventory and the exact customer need,” the spokeswoman said. “We are doing all we can to make sure no patient misses a single dose.”