The House Energy & Commerce subcommittee on health held a hearing on Tuesday to examine avenues for improving preparedness against public health security risks.
The hearing occurred amid an ongoing shortage of chemotherapy drugs in the U.S.
A recent survey found that a majority of cancer centers are reporting shortages of commonly used chemotherapy drugs used to treat a wide variety of cancers.
Much of the current shortage stems from the temporary closure of a drug manufacturing facility in India that happened after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found issues in the plant’s quality control.
While the federal government has taken some action to alleviate the scarcity, including importing drugs from other countries, members of the health care community say this shortage is a culmination of a years-long trend that will need an industry-wide fix.
“Frustration and outright anger do not begin to describe how I feel in reading heartbreak stories of patients with cancer not being able to receive treatment due to shortages of decades-old, low-cost generic drugs,” Ted Okon, executive director of the Community Oncology Alliance, told the House panel on Tuesday.
Generic drugs like the chemotherapy agents currently in short supply are manufactured with razor-thin margins, leading drugmakers to often operate at capacity and leaving the market with few players.
Okon also warned about shoddy conditions leading plants to close.
“Today’s shortages are the worst that I’ve seen in my 30-year career,” Julie Gralow, Chief Medical Officer and executive vice president for the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
She warned that up to 500,000 U.S. cancer patients a year could be impacted by these shortages.
Ever since supply chains were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the medical community has called on Congress to issue policies to change and improve supply lines.
Recommendations coming from medical groups include incentivizing the development of new manufacturing technology, improving how the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile functions and enacting more requirements on manufacturers so authorities can better anticipate potential shortages.