- Supplies of a critical chemotherapy used to treat childhood cancers could be restocked beginning next year, when Israeli drugmaker Teva expects to begin shipping the drug again after reversing a July decision to discontinue production.
- Teva's manufacturing shutdown compounded a supply crunch at a Pfizer subsidiary, the drug's sole other supplier, which led to shortages beginning in October. Pfizer expects to fully recover by January 2020, while Teva said its version would be available as early as possible next year.
- Called vincristine, the drug is a component in several widely used chemo combinations for leukemia and lymphoma. Generic injectable drugs like vincristine are more commonly in shortage, a phenomena that the Food and Drug Administration has pinned on a "broken marketplace."
Vincristine is the latest example of an essential drug for which supplies have run short, with few or no manufacturers available to take up production.
Shortages of the generic bladder cancer therapy BCG or Takeda's thyroid medication Natpara, to name two recent examples, have stressed treatment and put patients in the difficult position of seeking out less effective alternatives or rationing available medicine.
Roughly half of the 163 drugs that went into shortage between 2013 and 2017 were generic injectables like vincristine, a recent report from the FDA found. With older drugs, prices are often low and manufactured by only a few companies. And when one or two drop out, the remaining companies can't always meet higher demand for their products quickly.
Vincristine, for example, was once produced by four other drugmakers that have since stopped production, leaving just Teva and Pfizer.
According to Teva, its supply of vincristine accounted for only 3% of the market when the company decided to discontinue the drug, with Pfizer producing the rest.
"When Teva removed vincristine from the market earlier this year there was no indication at all of a possible shortage," the company said in a statement.
Yet once Pfizer encountered difficulties, demand quickly outstripped supply. The pharma's problems appear to be close to resolution, with the company predicting to have fully recovered by late this year and early next on the two versions of vincristine it produces.
Having reversed its earlier decision, Teva will now rejoin the market and plans to manufacture vincristine at one of its U.S. plants.