When only a handful of manufacturers supply a given drug, production problems at any of those companies can lead to a shortage. Earlier this year, problems at Ben Venue’s Bedford, Ohio, site contributed to shortages of the cancer drug Doxil. The shortages are likely to continue now that Ben Venue has suspended manufacturing at the plant.
After reviewing its documentation, the company concluded that routine preventive maintenance and requalification of manufacturing equipment at the site was overdue. Ben Venue suspended manufacturing so that it could assess the entire site and take appropriate corrective actions to ensure the safety of its products. The suspension will affect Johnson & Johnson, which markets Doxil, as well as Pfizer, Hospira, and Teva.
Last month, President Obama ordered FDA to take various steps intended to prevent and reduce drug shortages. The agency will require advance notice from manufacturers likely to face manufacturing disruptions, and it will expedite reviews of new drug suppliers, production sites, and manufacturing changes.
These steps, while helpful, do not address an important factor that contributes to drug shortages: manufacturing deficiencies. Even before Ben Venue conducted its own review, FDA found 48 quality concerns during an inspection of the Bedford site in May 2011. FDA likely needs a larger pool of inspectors to oversee drug manufacturing sites more thoroughly. But the government’s current desire for austerity will probably preclude the budget increase that would make hiring possible.
Maybe FDA should prioritize manufacturing sites for inspection if they are among a few that produce a medically necessary drug such as Doxil. Greater attention to crucial sites could identify problems earlier and, ideally, resolve them without disrupting drug supply.