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Cancer Drug Shortages Greatly Affect Patients with Blood Cancer, Families Across the US

Rye Brook, N.Y., May 25, 2023 – Patients with blood cancer want their disease to be treated with the best available therapies and feel confident that they’ll be available when they go to receive treatment. 

I know this because I have interacted with thousands of patients with blood cancer during my years as a clinician, researcher, and patient advocate. Unfortunately, as we have begun to witness very recently, there are occasions where, for a variety of reasons, we find ourselves facing drug shortages. In fact, chemotherapy drugs have returned to the list of top-five drug classes affected by shortages. 

Although shortages crop up periodically, I’m always disturbed when I am informed that patients are being greatly affected by these shortages. For some, there may be no other option if the drug they are receiving for their blood cancer is in limited supply. In these cases, patients may be forced to delay treatment or switch to another medication that may be less effective. 

All of us at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society are actively monitoring this situation and have been engaged in discussions with pivotal leaders to enact plans that make patients a priority. Everything we do at LLS is for our patients and their families. For example, we have worked with other non-profit organizations during the recent fludarabine shortage to establish a coalition that met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) representatives to inform them of the effect on our patients and to discuss options to make fludarabine available as soon as possible. 

Not only do we meet with the FDA on a regular basis, but we have encouraged drug manufacturers to be proactive in coming up with solutions to the problem — as we did with the asparaginase shortage. This action led to the FDA in July 2021 approving a new, or alternative, form of asparaginase for children and adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) or lymphoblastic lymphoma. 

I have also personally been working with companies to get approvals to manufacture drugs like nelarabine that are in critical shortage. 

Blood cancer drug shortages are a significant problem for our patients and their families who rely on these life-saving therapies to treat their disease, as well as to provide them the potential to return to what they consider a normal life — which could be as simple as a walk with their families or running a marathon. 

LLS continues to advocate for solutions that keep critical medicines readily available. We want our patients to be heard and we will continue to meet with leaders across the country to make sure patients have access to the drugs they need. 

-Gwen Nichols,
Chief Medical Officer,
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society