Australian cancer patients short-changed as US drug maker halts production

US-based manufacturer of the cancer treatment drug, Doxil, has halted its manufacturing operations citing maintenance reasons.

The temporary shut-down is expected to generate a serious shortage of supply in Australia and will affect the treatment of hundreds of Australian cancer patients. The drug Doxil, known as Caelyx in Australia, is used in the treat relapse patients of ovarian and breast cancer. No generic brands are available.

The US-company released a statement advising physicians that existing Doxil stocks should only be used to complete treatment courses that have been initiated.  The company said no new patients should be initiated on Doxil treatment until further notice.

According to Professor Ian Olver from Cancer Council Australia the shortage is symptomatic of a wider pharmaceutical manufacturing and supply problem.

Professor Olver told the ABC AM program said that it is foreseeable that problems will arise when there only one manufacturer worldwide supplying of a crucial type of drug.

“There seems to be very few on a worldwide basis, very few manufacturers for this drug, so that when one ceases supply it’s been very difficult to keep up with the demand for the drug,” he said on the program.

Professor Olver said that it came down to the economics of drug supply and distribution. However he noted that the news is very distressing for patients who are on the drug and can’t get further supplies.

The company said it anticipates poduction to resume by March.

No date has been set for the return to regular supply of Doxil to Australia. Doxil’s Australia distributer Johnson and Johnson is exploring other alternatives as a matter of urgency.

In the US, Johnson & Johnson have told the Wall Street Journal that it doesn’t expect to receive new supplies of Doxil in the US market until late 2012, at the earliest.

Image: Doxil