Shortage of cancer drug has mother of girl with leukemia on edge

Supplies of Erwinaze are limited after particles were noticed in some vials

Mother holding baby daughter at clinic
(Photo: WFLA)

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – A life-saving drug shortage is making life difficult for a Sarasota mom and her daughter who suffers from leukemia.

Every few days Eva and her Minnie Mouse doll come to Johns Hopkins All Children Hospital for chemotherapy. But after Ava’s mom Alyssa learned about the drug shortage that her daughter desperately need she was ready to cross borders get it.

“I’ve talked to a few hospitals in Canada to try and see if I could find it there so I could take her there,” she said.

After calling more than 50 places, the manufacturer, and the FDA, Alyssa said she got nowhere.

“I don’t understand in 2016 when we have great health insurance how there could be a shortage of a key component of leukemia,” she said.

The type of leukemia little Ava is diagnosed with has a 90 percent cure rate — but that is with the drug called asparaginase Erwinia chrysanthemi, or Erwinaze.

“Any time a drug is in shortage and you have to omit it from the regimen you’re not really able as a physician to counsel families about what to expect about the cure rate,” Alyssa said. “All the studies incorporate asparaginase.”

That’s a helpless feeling for Alyssa.

“Ultimately this affects her chances of success as hard as it is to say, that’s her chances of survival,” she says.

Doctors are also frustrated.

“There’s nothing I can do about, I can’t make asparaginase,” said Dr. Gregory Hale, professor of oncology.

Doctors and Alyssa say the shortage comes after a manufacturing problem at the warehouse where the drug is made. Luckily, Alyssa got a call this morning saying there’s enough medicine for three days of treatment but Ava needs more than three more doses.

“I’m sure it won’t be the last. I’ve been in close contact with the manufacturer and the FDA and they’ve both told me that this isn’t the first issue.”

The hospital did get a shipment of the drug today but it was only half of what they ordered.

The FDA Drug Shortage Database lists Erwinaze as “Currently in Shortage” after particulate matter was seen floating in some vials. It says: “Current backorders are being processed and are expected to ship by October 20, 2016. Product availability for new orders will be limited during the week of October 17, 2016 and fully available during the week of October 24, 2016.”

Originally published by our Media General sister station WFLA