Deanna’s Discoveries: A cancer patient shares her struggle to get lifesaving drugs

Chemo Drug Shortage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Cancer patients across the country are facing a nightmare scenario. They can’t get the drugs needed to save their lives. There are critical shortages of drugs doctors call “The bread and butter” of cancer care. And ultimately, it’s all about the money.

Three of the drugs that have been in short supply are Methotrexate, Cisplatin and Carboplatin. I’ve had all three of these drugs at some point during my four cancer battles. That’s because these drugs are very effective and used to treat dozens of different cancers. They’re also cheap generics, and few American manufacturers want to make them because there’s little profit to be made. But tell that to the patients.

When you talk to Caledonia resident, Robin Finley, she’ll tell you there are two people who are the center of her world, her daughter and granddaughter. And Finley has big plans.

“I am taking my granddaughter and the family to Disney World one of these days,” said Finley. “And I’m going to feel good for it!”          

Finley is fighting metastatic endometrial cancer. She once thought she’d conquered the beast only to have it return, this time attacking her liver and lungs.

“My first hope is for a cure of some kind, first of all,” she said. “Second of all a really long remission.”

And that’s possible if she’s treated with a chemotherapy drug called Carboplatin, a cheap generic drug that’s used alone or in combination with other drugs to treat about a dozen different cancers.

“Carboplatin has been very effective against my kind of cancer numerous times,” said Finley. “At one point I was even in a remission for a while.”

But last spring her doctor told her there was a nationwide shortage of Carboplatin and she’d have to be switched to a similar drug called Cisplatin.  Finley says unfortunately that drug is less effective in treating her cancer.

I did some research learned it’s all about the money. Because American manufacturers aren’t interested in producing cheap generic drugs, the U.S. relies primarily on international plants in places like Ahmedabad, India. That’s the home of Intas Pharmaceuticals, a manufacturer that supplies half of our country’s supply of the vital chemotherapy drug, Cisplatin.

But last year, the FDA found what it calls “a cascade of failure” in its quality control, including an employee dumping acid over trash bins of quality control documents.

After that, imports from that plant were halted leading to critical shortages of Cisplatin in the U.S. So doctors switched to Carboplatin, leading to critical shortages of that drug as well, affecting patients across the country affecting patients like Finley, a grandmother who has so much to live for, not the least of whom is as ray of summer sunshine in a pint-sized package.

“She [her granddaughter] puts me in forward motion all the time, gives me lots and lots to hope for,” said Finley.

Finley was without Carboplatin from spring until fall of last year, about half of her course of treatment. And while she’s now back on Carboplatin now, her experience speaks to the challenge our country faces with a wealth of generic drugs that American manufacturers won’t make. It’s a problem. The White House is trying to tackle, but it’s going to take a collaborative effort of the public and private sector.

In the meantime, Finley is getting lots of support from groups like the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, leaning on the love of other cancer patients facing the very same challenges.