The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Companies Are Causing a Shortage of Cancer Drugs

Nov 13, 2023

Life-saving common cancer treatment drugs, 14 of them in total, including two of the most important, called carboplatin and cisplatin, are in short supply, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Many of these are first line chemotherapy drugs used widely in the treatment of many types of cancer, such as for breast, ovarian, head and neck, and lung cancer. Overall, close to 90% of cancer centers surveyed by CNN reported a shortage of at least one type of anti-cancer drug.

All these cancer drugs in short supply are so-called “generic” drugs that are inexpensive as compared to brand-name drugs and are therefore not as profitable. As a result, the big pharmaceutical companies don’t bother to manufacture or market such drugs. Instead, they leave that market to low-cost manufacturing centers in places, such as India, which often have quality problems and are forced to close down or greatly reduce production.

All the giant pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and Novartis are interested in marketing brand-name drugs, on which they have a monopoly under the patent system and are by far the most profitable. Even a pharmaceutical giant, Teva, the biggest generic drug manufacturer, which makes billions of dollars each year from sales of generic drugs, is currently shifting its sales to brand-name drugs and getting out of the sales of generic drugs.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf told NBC News: “The oncology shortage is especially critical. I’m a former intensivist doctor and I’m very aware of the consequences if you can’t get needed chemotherapy.

A recent American Cancer Society survey found that one in 10 cancer patients has been affected by recent drug shortages. When cancer patients faced such shortages, oncologists either resorted to using substitute drugs, which may have side effects or don’t have desired efficacy, or delayed treatments of their patients. The use of substitute drugs costs more to the patients or causes shortages of those substitutes.

Our survival should not depend on a narrow capitalistic mindset that puts profit over human health and life. And it is one more reason why the working class cannot leave these basic decisions in the hands of the capitalist class.