US will buy more chemotherapy drug cisplatin as supply declines

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Department of health and human services says it will obtain more than 6 tonnes of cancer treatment

The United States government is stepping up its stockpiling of the chemotherapy agent cisplatin after signs that patient numbers are again heading higher, the department of health and human services announced on Friday.

It plans to purchase 6.8 tonnes of cisplatin – enough to treat more than 2,000 people with the cancer, which begins in the cells that make up the lining of the organs.

Following advice from the government’s national stockpile of cancer drugs and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), DHHS will purchase 1.7 tonnes of cisplatin, the announcement said.

This followed the issuance of an urgent alert from the department on Thursday and follows reports that there has been a significant upswing in the number of patients needing treatment and services to meet growing demand.

The patients receiving treatment with cisplatin usually have advanced cancers which have gone undetected for years. Many develop very aggressive skin, breast and bone cancer cells.

In some cases, cisplatin has saved more than one life.

The government decided to buy more than 1 tonne of cisplatin after its agency the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases informed DHHS that in a few instances patients were given two doses of the cancer treatment and then deferred two other doses.

The same stockpile was deployed by the Obama administration to avoid the shortages that the Bush administration had instigated.

Cisplatin is a chemotherapy drug used to treat patients with cancer and other diseases that spread to the skin.

In a report issued on Thursday, the DHHS said that the abundance of supplies has resulted in improved pharmacy practices and others putting in place “alternative protocols” to ensure that patients get their cancer treatments, in addition to no longer transporting so many patients for treatment.

The Department of Health and Human Services statement added that it was also “committed to increasing the number of patients being treated in hospitals with up-to-date equipment and processes”.

It said hospitals could submit information for its review to help in more timely placement.

“If the agency determines that additional space or equipment at facilities in the National Cancer Institute library can be repurposed, it will provide space,” the report said.

It added that the staff will also assess patient requirements for a drug that is considered “pilot”, and allow for “additional availability of the drug and increased services”.

Doctors have criticised the decline in treatments for patients as supplies of chemotherapy drugs diminishes.

The shortages have occurred over the last 15 years as manufacturers have continued to produce low-yield supplies of drugs for limited cycles at present, based on a model that pushes the drugs out each year for the remainder of their life cycle.

Part of the problem is the manufacturers are no longer producing drugs at the volume they produced in the past, but have instead reduced the amounts by up to 89%.

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