Abraxane Still in Short Supply for Cancer Patients

Jim Kling

January 25, 2022

Abraxane, a chemotherapy treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer, advanced non–small cell lung cancer and metastatic breast cancer, is on allocation through early March because of manufacturing delays, forcing physicians to find alternatives for a drug once lauded for being easier to tolerate.

Abraxane (Bristol-Myers Squibb) is a paclitaxel albumin-bound injectable. It is different from alternative chemotherapy treatments like Taxol (paclitaxel) because it doesn't use the solvents that can make Taxol difficult to tolerate. It was described as a "next-generation taxane" because it didn't rely on solvents. It was approved in 2005 for metastatic breast cancer, then in 2012 for advanced non–small cell lung cancer, in 2013 for late-stage pancreatic cancer and in 2019 for people with PD-L1–positive metastatic triple-negative breast cancer.

The shortage, which was announced on Oct. 5, 2021, by the Food and Drug Administration, has led to some difficult decisions for patients and physicians. How long the shortage will last isn't clear.

"I printed out [an] allotment sheet 2 days ago, and all it says [for Abraxane] is allocated," said Kathy Oubre, MS, CEO of Pontchartrain Cancer Center, Hammond, La. "Everyone is keeping what they've got for their own patients, so there really isn't anything available."

The Pontchartrain Cancer Center sent two patients to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, for continued treatment with Abraxane, but that option is costly and time consuming for patients. The two patients had the means to travel, but Ms. Oubre said that many others cannot afford to travel for treatment. "Everyone has patients who are living paycheck to paycheck who certainly couldn't afford to do that. There are going to be patients across the nation that are not going to be able to have care as a result of these things."

The supply problems are causing difficult decisions for physicians, who may have to switch a patient from an unavailable drug to an alternative that isn't as effective, Ms. Oubre said. "I can't imagine the stress and the sadness that the physicians have to feel when they have to go explain that to a patient. That runs counter to everything they are as physicians."

Other strategies include chemo holidays and rounding down doses in patients with metastatic cancer, according to Camille Hill, PharmD, vice president of oncology pharmacy services, West Cancer Center, Germantown, Tenn.

Shortages and allocations are growing at an alarming rate, Ms. Oubre said. In her 15 years of working in the industry, "I don't recall it ever being this challenging." During a Zoom interview, she held up a lengthy list of drugs on allocation or unavailable that her pharmacy group purchasing organization sent her the previous week. "I don't ever recall getting this kind of list. Every 3 days, I'm getting this. If it were just that one product, I can live with that. We figure it out. But it's bigger than that."

Worker shortages are exacerbating the issue. Ms. Oubre received a letter from a drug company describing its employee issues, which included chemists, plant workers, and loading dock staff. On top of that, delivery companies are experiencing staff shortages, which can result in more delays and complicate matters further. "It's just compounding. These things can get really difficult very quickly. I don't want to say we're in crisis, and we're not rationing care. We're not in those buckets yet. But I would say that if these things don't get better, it's the first time in my work career that we are having those conversations of: 'How we are going to plan for that it does come to that?' " she said.

"In general, with the pandemic, we have seen all sorts of just disruptions to the supply chain. So, I think you just do your best, you find alternatives for those patients that you can, and you come up with strategies. I don't know that for Abraxane, or any other product, that I'd be particularly confident that we may not see another shortage," Hill said.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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