Critical Cancer Drug Running Out

Childhood leukemia victims run low on methotrexate
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2012 2:29 PM CST
Critical Cancer Drug Running Out
FILE - In this March 19, 1996, file photo five-year-old Alec Zhloba, who suffers from leukemia, is held by his doctor in the children's cancer ward of the Gomel Regional Hospital, in Gomel, Belarus. Twenty-five years ago, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded in Ukraine, spreading radioactive...   (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

(Newser) – Bad news for Americans with childhood leukemia: A critical medicine used to treat the disease is so hard to find that hundreds or thousands of kids could die, the New York Times reports. Methotrexate, typically used to treat leukemia in children aged 2 to 5, fell into short supply after an Ohio company stopped making it due to "manufacturing and quality concerns." Says an FDA official: "This is dire. Supplies are just not meeting demand.”

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Four other methotrexate manufacturers in the US are trying to pick up the slack, and the FDA is seeking a foreign supplier. "But if we can’t get this drug anymore, that sets us back decades," says the president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Worse, this is not an isolated case: At least 180 drugs needed to treat childhood leukemia, colon cancer, and breast cancer have fallen into short supply so far this year. (Read more leukemia stories.)

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