Pfizer Looks to Fill Void for Chemo Drug After Teva Discontinues Its Generic Version


Earlier this year Teva Pharmaceuticals announced its intentions to discontinue the manufacture of a generic version of vincristine, a chemotherapy drug described as a “lynchpin” in the treatment of many childhood cancers, including leukemias, lymphomas and even brain tumors.

That business decision left one company to fill the void – Pfizer, which manufactures a branded version of the chemotherapy drug. Now, with only one company manufacturing the key medication, doctors are warning of a potential shortage and rationing has begun, multiple news outlets are reporting. Dr. Yoram Unguru, a pediatric oncologist at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore told the New York Times, the first outlet to report on the shortage, that the lack of vincristine is a “nightmare situation.”

“Vincristine is our water. It’s our bread and butter. I can’t think of a disease in childhood cancer that doesn’t use vincristine,” Unguru told the Times.

This shortage could force many treating physicians to begin making tough choices on how to address cancers in their patients.

“There is no substitution for vincristine that can be recommended,” Unguru said. “You either have to skip a dose or give a lower dose — or beg, borrow or plead.”

Pfizer spokesperson Jessica Smith told the Times that the pharmaceutical giant plans to expedite more shipments of the cancer treatment over the next few weeks as part of an effort to meet demand. The company has ramped up its production to “support three to four times our typical production output,” Smith said.

While Teva made a decision to discontinue its manufacture of the cancer drug, the company said its business decision did not lead to a shortage. Kelley Dougherty, a spokesperson for Teva, told The Hill that the Israel-based company evaluated data from 2017 to assess the market need for vincristine.

At that time, the market share split was on average 85% brand and only 15% generic/Teva,” she said, according to The Hill. "Based on this information about usage and availability and an annual business assessment, Teva decided to discontinue the product, and alerted FDA of its decision in March 2019.”

Teva is the largest generic drugmaker in the world but the market has not been kind to the company lately. In February, the company signaled that the thin generics market was forcing it to make a decision to shift a significant portion of its resources at the more lucrative biologics market from the generics market. As BioSpace reported earlier this year, Teva plans to shift some of its energies away from generics to branded medications, including the “higher-margin biologics.” Chief Executive Officer Kare Schultz predicted that with the shift, about half of the company’s revenues will eventually come from biologics.

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