US Taps Chinese Drug Company Amid Chemotherapy Shortages

(Photo Credit: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash)
(Photo Credit: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash)

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There are still some fields where the US and China play nice.

As America continues to struggle with a shortage of chemotherapy drugs, the FDA is allowing imports from a Chinese pharmaceutical company despite its drug not having federal approval and the vials being labeled in Chinese, The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend.

What’s the Prognosis?

Coupled with radiation and surgery, chemotherapy is the standard cancer treatment, and while it’s effective at killing rapidly growing cancer cells, chemo also attacks the normal, healthy cells in the body, leading to a weakened immune system. For that reason, many patients held off on the treatment during the heights of the pandemic. A highly contagious virus and no way to fight it was not a good combo. So when covid finally became more manageable, patients began their chemo regimens again, but supply chains were still weak, and the US quickly found itself facing a drug shortage.

The Financial Times reported that there are currently 14 oncology medicines listed “in shortage” by US regulators, and with more than 1 million Americans needing to undergo chemotherapy each year, doctors have begun rationing their supplies. One of those drugs — and often the first line of defense for most cancers — is cisplatin.

Exacerbating the influx of patients, in February, FDA inspectors found workers at an Inta Pharmaceuticals plant in India tearing internal records and loading trucks with garbage bags full of shredded documents. The violations caused the FDA to stop allowing imports for that plant, but Intas provides roughly half of all the US’ cisplatin, so you can see how a bad situation was about to get worse:

  • The FDA is now allowing imports from China of Qilu Pharmaceuticals’ cisplatin, a chemo treatment that roughly 10% to 20% of all cancer patients take, to offset the shortages. The FDA approved cisplatin for cancer treatment in the 1970s, just not this particular injection from Qilu.
  • The agency reversed course with Intas and started accepting shipments from the plant in India again as long as a third party certifies their quality, among other conditions, the WSJ reported.

Breath of Fresh Air: As for good news in the world of cancer treatments, new test results found that the lung cancer patients who took AstraZeneca’s Tagrisso after surgery reduced their risk of dying by 51%. The FDA approved Tagrisso in 2018 and it has since become one of the biggest feathers in AstraZeneca’s cap, last year driving $5.4 billion in revenue, Reuters reported. “Fifty percent is a big deal in any disease, but certainly in a disease like lung cancer, which has typically been very resistant to therapies,” Dr Roy Herbst, the deputy director of Yale Cancer Center and lead author of the study, said at American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago.

Griffin Kelly