Europe needs a plan to combat cancer drug shortages, says report

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A Europe-wide early warning system for medicines shortages has been called for, with evidence suggested these problems are affecting patients.

The proposal is part of a six-point plan to reduce incidence of cancer drug shortages after research showed the problem had become widespread.

The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit to produce a white paper on cancer drugs shortages after 55% of European pharmacists reported shortages of cancer drugs.

Cancer drugs were the class of medicines most likely to be affected by shortages, according to the 2014 survey conducted by the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists (EAHP).

In the survey, 55% of respondents said they had experienced shortages of cancer medicines – mainly generics such as 5-fluoroucil, cisplatin and methotrexate.

Separate FDA research last year showed delays were more likely to be caused by manufacturing issues, (37%), followed by delays and capacity problems (27%), shortages of raw materials (27%), then increased demand (5%), discontinuation (2%) and loss of manufacturing site (2%).

Other research in 2013 by the consultant group Birgli showed that in Europe, despite national warning systems, causes for shortages are often unreported.

Birgli concluded that there are three main underlying causes: economic, business and supply chain.

As a result the Economist Intelligence Unit recommended introduction of legislation for early notification requirements, strategic plans, catalogues of shortages, essential medicines lists, incentives for production infrastructure improvements, and improved procurement models.

The early notification system would require manufacturers to provide information about reasons for discontinuation of supply, and strategic plans should be implemented at a European level, according to the document.

The European Medicines Agency already produces a shortages catalogue of known shortages and has produced a paper on reducing supply shortages caused by manufacturing problems.

Aside from maintaining the catalogue of shortages, the paper calls for the establishment of standard operating procedures for handling reports og shortages, and improving international co-operation.