FDA's drug shortages leader wants companies to start reporting increases in demand
It is no secret that drug shortages have been prevalent in 2022. Several major drug products, such as amoxicillin and Adderall, have been in short supply for several months and have led to members of Congress applying pressure on the FDA and HHS to resolve the situation.
Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, Valerie Jensen, the associate director of the FDA’s Drug Shortage Staff, noted both the rise in quality-related issues and increased demand for some products. She called on companies to report such demand increases, even though they are not currently required to do so.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, she said, the agency has seen new challenges mainly related to these increases in demand.
“During the pandemic as well, we had competition on manufacturing lines and that’s still occurring due to vaccine production and other Covid products,” Jensen said. “So, the same products are being made on those lines that are making the vaccines and Covid-related products, and then that creates a competition situation.”
Jensen added that an increase in demand for manufacturing commodities due to large-scale vaccine production is also leading to shortages. Items such as glass, filters and vial hoppers are in short supply. And now the increased demand is centered around the increase in drugs to counter respiratory illnesses.
She said the physical number of drug shortages currently sits at 123, which is “a little above normal,” but there have been around 100 shortages at any given time over the past seven years. Some of those can be chalked up to companies not producing the volumes required to meet market demand. She also added that there were 38 new shortages in 2021, but the FDA is still dealing with them this year.
For some temporary solutions, Jensen said that she has been coordinating with international regulatory authorities more often, to find out what is being marketed and to see if they can import a drug in short supply in the US. She is also coordinating experts to try to mitigate the situation, providing the public with widely available information as well as expediting the review of anything that manufacturers need to boost supplies.
However, Jensen said that the increase in the demand for drugs is not something that will be going away anytime soon.
“One thing that we really see going forward are these demand increases, this is something that is fairly new to us. It’s something that we’re looking at closely,” she said. “We would really want companies to inform us if they’re seeing spikes in demand because that’s currently not required.”
While producers do need to let the FDA know of supply disruption, companies do not need to let the FDA know of spikes in demand, and Jensen would like to see this changed. Also, she would like to apply different uses for supply chain data to look for signals or patterns and ultimately predict shortages.
Jensen added that in some cases it is impossible to prevent a shortage, but she stresses that better notification of when companies are seeing a spike in demand can be a key solution:
In those cases, when we can prevent (a shortage), we are using those same tools to prevent it. So, we’re expediting review, we’re looking at potential ways that we can use flexibility to allow a product to be on the market while the company fixes a problem. All of those tools are really the same for prevention and mitigation. But I think that really the key is early notification. The earlier companies let us know about an issue the earlier we can deal with it.
With the uptick in respiratory illnesses and shortages of drugs such as amoxicillin, Jensen noted that it’s a matter of reaching out and monitoring the market to see what manufacturers are contending with. Also, Jensen will look to work with pharmacy associations and other trade groups to see what is occurring at the pharmacy level and then “put all of those pieces together” to try and help end the shortage.