Parents: Cancer drug that could help their son isn't available

Published: Feb. 16, 2012 at 5:14 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2012 at 12:34 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's a life or death situation that has hospitals around the country and right here in Kentuckiana scrambling. A cancer drug that treats thousands of children with Leukemia is in desperate short supply and is no longer being produced.

There are children who need the drug at Kosair Children's Hospital. Kosair officials tell WAVE 3 News, they have a two week supply.

Members of one of those families is speaking out to WAVE 3 in the hopes of helping their child and all the others just like him.

Middle schooler Owen McMasters loves playing video games and sports but, four months ago the 12-year-old's normal life took a tragic turn. "One night my mom was checking me out and she felt enlarged lymph nodes all over my neck," Owen said.

Since being diagnosed in November with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or (ALL), Owen has been getting overwhelming family support. His cousins, uncles and brothers all shaved their heads in solidarity.

But, it's what he can't get March 9, that has his family so upset.

That's the date he's scheduled to begin a high dose of the chemotherapy drug Methotrexate: A life saving drug for thousands of kids with ALL.

A few months ago, one of the nation's largest suppliers suspended the drug's production.

Pharmacists say it's gone from the shelves and the supply will run out in two weeks.

"Now, we face the threat that there will be children that will not be cured of their cancer because we can't produce a 50 year old generic drug that has been available for a long time and should never be in short supply," said Owen's dad Dr. Kelly McMasters.

Mom Beth added of her son's needed drug,"It's hard enough to see him sick but, to think that he couldn't have something is unbelievable."

Up to 90 percent of children survive ALL, if they get the medication.

The situation is especially frustrating to his Kelly McMasters because he's a surgical oncologist. He told us, "I'm a surgeon so, if there's a problem I'm used to cutting it out and I can't fix this one by cutting it out."

How could this happen?

"There's no profit motive for companies to produce these generic drugs that sell for very little cost," Dr. McMasters told WAVE 3 News, "the Methotrexate for example, that Owen needs in a couple of weeks from now costs $1.58 per vial."

Some of Owen's other drugs cost thousands of dollars for a single dose. "These very expensive drugs Owen gets," his dad explained, "we never have shortages of those."

The Make A Wish Foundation recently asked Owen if he had a hero he would like to meet or a fun trip he would like to take.

Owen told us, "For my Make A Wish, I just want to solve this Methotrexate shortage." He hopes by getting the word out other people will help kids like him by contacting their lawmakers.

His mom Beth added, "Government wants to get involved all over the place and this is the place it's needed."

"This is an absolute national embarrassment, " said Dr. McMasters, "that we can't produce a 50 year old chemotherapy drug that's needed to cure children of their cancer?"

Methotrexate is just one of many generic drugs in short supply.

Other countries are producing the drug. The FDA has the authority to import it.

Several months ago, President Obama signed an executive order giving the FDA some power with drug shortages but critics say, it doesn't have enough teeth.

To help these parents and others like them you can learn more about the drug at Once on the site you can be connected to a form letter that allows you to contact U.S. lawmakers from your district.

Copyright 2012 WAVE News. All rights reserved.