ASCO Details How to Manage Ongoing Cancer Drug Shortage

ASCO Details How to Manage Ongoing Cancer Drug Shortage

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has released guidance on how to prioritize use of key oncology drugs amid ongoing shortages.

As of November 30, the US Food and Drug Administration lists 16 commonly used oncology drugs currently in shortage, including methotrexate, capecitabine, vinblastine, carboplatin, and cisplatin, along with another 13 discontinued agents.

The ASCO guidance, which is updated regularly on ASCO’s drug shortage website, covers dozens of clinical situations involving breast, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, gynecologic, thoracic, and head & neck cancers, as well as Hodgkin lymphoma.

The recommendations, published earlier this month in the JCO Oncology Practice, represent the work of a Drug Shortages Advisory Group with over 40 oncologists, ethicists, and patient advocates brought together by ASCO in collaboration with the Society for Gynecologic Oncology. 

In the guidance, the advisory group also provides some context about why these shortage issues have persisted, including a paucity of generic options, quality control issues, and reluctance among manufacturers to produce older drugs with slim profit margins.

And “while ASCO continues to work to address the root causes of the shortages, this guidance document aims to support clinicians, as they navigate the complexities of treatment planning amid the drug shortage, and patients with cancer who are already enduring physical and emotional hardships,” the advisory group writes.

The overall message in the guidance: conserve oncology drugs in limited supply to use when needed most.

The recommendations highlight alternative regimens, when available, and what to do in situations when there are no alternatives, advice that has become particularly relevant for the oncology workhorses cisplatin and carboplatin.

More generally, when ranges of acceptable doses and dose frequencies exist for drugs in short supply, clinicians should opt for the lowest dose at the longest interval. Dose rounding and multi-use vials should also be used to eliminate waste, and alternatives should be used whenever possible. If an alternative agent with similar efficacy and safety is available, the agent in limited supply should not be ordered.

In certain settings where no reasonable alternatives to platinum regimens exist, the advisory group recommends patients travel to where platinum agents are available. The group noted this strategy specifically for patients with non-small cell lung cancer or testicular germ cell cancers, but also acknowledged that this option “may cause additional financial toxicity, hardship, and distress.”

Other, more granular advice includes holding carboplatin in reserve for patients with early-stage triple-negative breast cancer on neoadjuvant therapy who don’t respond well to upfront doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, and pembrolizumab.

In addition to providing strategies to manage the ongoing cancer drug shortages, ASCO advises counseling for patients and clinicians struggling with the “psychological or moral distress” from the ongoing shortages.

“Unfortunately, drug shortages place the patient and the provider in a challenging situation, possibly resulting in inferior outcomes, delayed or denied care, and increased adverse events,” the advisory group writes. “ASCO will continue to respond to the oncology drug shortage crisis through policy and advocacy efforts, provide ethical guidance for allocation and prioritization decisions, and maintain shortage-specific clinical guidance as long as necessary.”

M. Alexander Otto is a physician assistant with a master’s degree in medical science and a journalism degree from Newhouse. He is an award-winning medical journalist who worked for several major news outlets before joining Medscape. Alex is also an MIT Knight Science Journalism fellow. Email: [email protected].

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