Kevin Cokely, NBC 5 News
There's only a two-week nationwide supply of an inexpensive cancer drug used to treat a common and curable form of childhood cancer.
Local pharmacists are scrambling to find a drug used to treat a common and curable childhood cancer.
The injectable form of the inexpensive drug methotrexate is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.
"Obviously, it's very frustrating being a parent and not being able to get a hold of the medication that they know they need to be on," said James Wiernas, of Dougherty's Pharmacy in Dallas.
One of the nation's largest suppliers of the drug suspended operations back in November at the plant that makes it. Now, the nationwide supply of it may run out within two weeks.
"This is not something that you can start and stop whenever you casually want," Wiernas said.
Nearly 3,600 children and teenagers are diagnosed with ALL each year. Doctors say about 90 percent can be cured.
The cupboard is bare at Dougherty's and other pharmacies.
"A month or two, we've been completely out," Wiernas said. "Then we'll get some. As soon as we do, more often than not, it goes off our shelves pretty quickly."
The supply is becoming so tight that pharmacists at Dougherty's even heard from a doctor at Parkland Hospital who was looking for the drug.
"It's definitely coming to a head now," Wiernas said.
The Food and Drug Administration and others are urging companies to increase production, but no one can force them.
Specialty groups representing researchers and doctors who care for children with cancer say the methotrexate shortage began in December when production declined. That drop resulted primarily from Ben Venue Laboratories Inc. temporarily closing its factory in Bedford, Ohio, in November after federal inspectors said the company had not been properly maintaining equipment or promptly addressing defective product batches and sterility problems.
Besides making methotrexate, the factory was the sole source for Johnson & Johnson's Doxil, a drug widely used for breast and ovarian cancer that's not been available for new patients for months.
Each of the remaining four manufacturers of methotrexate has had some type of production problem, and it's been unclear when the next batches of the drug will be sent to wholesalers and hospitals, according to Erin R. Fox, manager of the University of Utah Drug Information Service, which tracks national drug shortages.