Drug Shortage

Shortage of doxorubicin for injection

DNA complexed with two doxorubicin molecules (Credit: Wikimedia)

Here you see what doxorubicin does to the DNA inside cells. Because it does it to all the cells, there are seriously bad side effects when you treat various cancers with injectable doxorubicin, including possible new cancers caused by the doxorubicin at a later date. Because the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells means that their DNA strands are not as tightly coiled, doxorubicin is more likely to slip in, intercalate is the technical term. The result is that cancer cells are more likely to be killed than cells that aren’t growing at an abnormal rate.

There are familiar antibiotics that help fight off infections when the body needs help doing so. There are many more antibiotics which are so poisonous to humans that they are unusable. Doxorubicin is one of the antibiotics which fall into the middle range of this spectrum. Carefully used, it can be more helpful than harmful.

There are five manufacturers, but the drug is nevertheless in short supply starting in 2011, when a drug manufacturing plant in Bedford, Ohio, temporarily and then permanently closed due to its long-term inability to produce quality products. The FDA coped with the shortage by allowing importation of a different formulation of doxorubicin made by Sun Pharma.

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