“The active ingredients of some cancer drugs are manufactured in India or China and the supply is weakened. When the pharmaceutical industry operates just in time, an increase in demand can cause great tensions, as we have seen with resuscitation products in the spring, ”explains Amandine Courtin, project manager at the League against cancer.
The shortcomings in the supply of medicines, all categories combined, predate the pandemic: the shortages or tensions on stocks reported to the National Medicines Agency (ANSM) have almost quadrupled between 2013 and 2019. Almost a quarter of these stockouts relate to oncology.
Prof. Axel Kahn, president of the League against cancer, kicked off a campaign denouncing these shortages on Monday.
Asked by AFP, the geneticist gave an idea of the extent of the problem: “There are around forty drugs of major importance in oncology (cancer treatment) which have been in short supply. The first affected are always cheap drugs. Therapeutic innovations that cost the skin of the buttocks, we never lack ”.
Patient misunderstanding and anger
The League against cancer supports its diagnosis with a study. Respondents, 74% of health professionals involved in cancer treatment have already faced the shortage. The strongest tensions concerned bladder cancer (94% of urologists noted shortages).
For Amandine Courtin, this study responds to “the lack of data on the consequences of this shortage. It has been observed that healthcare professionals, and a fortiori patients, are poor when the supply is deficient. There is no information. For patients who are already in an extremely difficult care journey, this can only arouse incomprehension and anger. They can legitimately wonder why they cannot be treated properly in a country like France ”.
Interruptions in treatment reduce the chances of a cure, especially for cancers that were “kept in check by proven treatments,” underlines Professor Kahn.
Is the solution to relocate the production of drugs? “Health sovereignty” is one of the axes of the France recovery plan detailed by Prime Minister Jean Castex on September 3.
During the examination of the 2020 Social Security financing bill, the Assembly unanimously approved on October 19, 2019, a provision obliging pharmaceutical manufacturers to build up security stocks “up to and including at four months ”.
Two or four months of stock?
However, the decree implementing this law has not yet been published and the rule of “four months” has been called into question “by the executive, under pressure from industrialists”, according to the federation France assos santé, which supports the appeal from the League Against Cancer. “Today the health of our citizens is still losing ground. The currently proposed decree defines a minimum measure responding to pressure from industry: 2 months of stocks, ”denounces France assos santé in a press release.
Negotiations between authorities, caregivers and manufacturers relate in particular to drugs of major therapeutic interest (MITM).
Pharmaceutical industries consider long storage times unrealistic
The employers’ union Leem (drug companies) defends a principle of economic reality: “MITMs now represent half of the 15,000 pharmaceutical specialties marketed in France. Consequently, a storage obligation of four months for all of these products is materially impracticable. […] they are mainly old drugs, little valued. The excessive lengthening of the shelf life of these drugs would probably lead some suppliers to withdraw them from the market ”.