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Drug for cancer patients, Taxol, running dangerously low

June 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Cancer patients across the country are receiving devastating news: clinics are running out of Taxol, a widely used chemotherapy drug for breast and ovarian cancer patients.

Four out of the five companies that produce it say they're running short.

One of those manufacturers said the drug is on back order and cannot estimate a release date.

Medical experts say worst case scenarios could soon become reality.

"We may experience earlier deaths in some patients because of these drug shortages," said Cynthia Reilly of the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.

In Burbank, oncologists report other shortages of mainstay cancer drugs.

Some doctors suspect companies have no motive to make more because the drug is generic and has low profit margins.

"This is not where the money is and it does paint a very unfavorable picture of the industry," Dr. Joseph Leach said.

Drug companies aren't required to inform the FDA when a drug is in short supply. When the FDA finds out, it can take steps to avert or minimize the impact.

Dr. Berkowitz of the Disney Family Cancer Center says if he does run out of Taxol, it's possible to substitute for another drug called Taxotere.

A bill called Preserving Access to Life Saving Medications has been presented to congress. It would require drug makers to notify the FDA immediately of any shortage.

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