The New York Times reports that some 40% of patients who need Thyrogen, a drug used in the treatment and monitoring of thyroid cancer, will not be able to get it until later this summer, that according to Genzyme Corp, Cambridge, Mass, the medication’s manufacturer.

The shortage is prompting some patients to delay treatment or to proceed with it despite the often problematic side effects normally allayed by the medication, such as severe depression, fatigue, and confusion.

Thyrogen is a synthetic thyroid-stimulating hormone given by injection to patients who have had their thyroid glands removed; they need the drug to receive treatment or undergo diagnostic tests. Before Thyrogen became available in 1998, patients without thyroids were forced to stop taking synthetic thyroid hormone for up to 6 weeks before tests and treatments, according to the article.

Thyrogen enables these patients to avoid the often significant side effects of hormone withdrawal. A 2007 study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology found that patients who took Thyrogen reduced the length of their workplace sick leaves by 8.1 days on average, compared with those in withdrawal. There is no comparable product available for people who need the drug, the article says.

Thyroid cancer may be a very treatable disease, but it also has a recurrence rate of nearly 30%, and it is the fastest-growing cancer diagnosis among women in the United States, according to the Times.

Genzyme says the global supply will continue to be scarce until July. Alicia Secor, head of Thyrogen business at Genzyme, told the Times the shortage is a result of “inventory constraints and an inability to meet increasing demand,” as well as a transition to a new plant for its bottling and labeling operations.

Thyrogen joins a number of other cancer drugs that have recently fallen into short supply, including Cytarabine, a chemotherapy agent used to treat several types of leukemia.

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Sanofi-avenits, Paris, acquired Genzyme in April.

[Source: New York Times]