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Family of UofL Physicians’ Dr. McMasters appeared on CNN Feb. 25-26

Published on February 27, 2012

The family of UofL Physicians’ Kelly McMasters, M.D., appeared on CNN’s Sanjay Gupta show at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, and Sunday, Feb. 26 discussing the shortage of a life-saving cancer drug.

Dr. McMasters’ 12-year-old son, Owen, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) the week before Thanksgiving. The family is working to bring media attention to the nationwide shortage of methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug critical to the treatment of children with ALL.

Leukemia is the most common cancer in children. Unfortunately, there is no alternative to methotrexate--it is critical to be able to cure up to 90% of children with ALL. Without it, children will die needlessly. The national shortage is so severe that the supply will not last 2 weeks. Sweeping changes are needed to address the shortage of critical generic drugs. The basic problem is economic: pharmaceutical companies make little profit on off-patent generic drugs like methotrexate (which sells for $1.58 per vial). There is no incentive for companies to produce these drugs.

Owen is due to receive methotrexate in the next three weeks. However, there may not be any methotrexate left to help save his life. Owen never has trouble getting the drugs that cost up to $6,000 per dose -- these new drugs are always available in abundant supply despite much more complex manufacturing processes.

Dr. McMasters has proposed some solutions. The FDA has the authority to import the drug from other countries and must do so immediately. Since the prices for such drugs are limited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), one solution is to increase the allowable charge for methotrexate and other critical generic drugs. To keep this budget neutral, why not concomitantly reduce the price of newer blockbuster medications under patent protection that are phenomenally profitable and use those funds to help support production of critical generic medications? This is a uniquely American problem -- other countries find ways to subsidize the cost. Another proposal is to create a national stockpile of critical drugs like methotrexate. The free market (with current regulations) is not solving the problem; it is only getting worse.

The FDA has expensive programs for orphan drugs for rare diseases--but we have no investment to assure that a 50 year old, yet highly effective drug like methotrexate is available to treat the most common cancer among children. Whatever the solution, it needs to take place quickly. Owen doesn’t care how the problem is solved, he only wants the life-saving chemotherapy that he and other children so desperately need. Owen has been contacted by the Make A Wish Foundation to ask if he wants a trip to Disney World, a video game shopping spree, or some other wish to be fulfilled. Owen’s only wish is to make sure that he and other children with cancer can get the medication they need to be cured.

Watch the video here.