Sequera looks out the window while receiving chemotherapy treatment at a paediatric hospital in Maracaibo (Photo : Reuters)
A shortage of the drug mechlorethamine has raised relapse rates among cancer patients afflicted with Hodgkin lymphoma, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Scientists at the St. Jude's Research Hospital stress that the results apply particularly to children, teens, adolescents, and young adults.
Hodgkin's lymphoma weakens patients' immune system by spurring growth in the lymphatic system and tearing down the body's defenses against infection. Mechlorethamine is administered intravenously by professionals experienced in chemotherapy treatments, and is also used to combat leukemia and lung cancer.
Dr. Michael Link, the senior author of the study, notes that "These are drugs that have gone off patent a long time ago. they are drugs that are all generic and they are quite cheap, so there's not much incentive for manufacturers to make them."
Medical News Today reports that none of the patients involved in the research have died, however they face further complications in the future as result of the drug shortage.
"Despite heroic efforts by the drug shortage office of the Food and Drug Administration to solve the shortages of a number of medically necessary drugs, it is clear that patients are still suffering from the unavailability of life saving drugs. A more systematic solution to the problem is needed," adds Link.
Dr. Monika Metzger of St. Jude Department of Oncology explains, "This is a devastating exxample of how drug shortages affect patients and why these shortages must be prevented. Our results demonstrate that, for many chemotherapy drugs, there are no adequate substitute drugs available."