Life-saving cancer drug for children in short supply

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(CBS) — A life-saving drug for children is in short supply.  Vincristine treats a myriad of childhood cancers but now some hospitals are having a hard time getting their hands on it and may be forced to cut doses or even ration it.  

15-year-old Lily Aldred has battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia since January, relying 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,” said Jenni Aldred, Lily’s mother.

Vincristine is now in short supply because this summer, the pharmaceutical company Teva announced it would stop making the drug due to “business reasons.” 

Teva was one of only two suppliers of the drug, which has no alternative. 

“This is really gonna cost lives if we don’t act as a nation to solve this problem,” said Dr. Rabi Hanna with Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.

Hanna is the director of hematology and oncology at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. He says shortages of vincristine will force doctors to make tough choices.

“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.

Since 1963, Vincristine has been critical in treating most childhood cancers including leukemias, lymphomas and brain tumors. 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,” Jenni 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.

Dr. Rabi Hanna says affected patients and their families should be sending emails and letters to the FDA.

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