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Emmy winning reports: Cancer drug shortages lower children's survival rate

In a series of reports last year, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook examined the impact of cancer drug shortages and what could be done to keep life-saving medications available for the patients who need them.

On Oct. 1, this work was recognized with an Emmy Award for outstanding reporting.

The reports focused on a nationwide shortage of life-saving cancer drugs for children.


Little Elena Schoneveld needed one of those drugs to fight her leukemia. She was diagnosed when she was just eight months old.

Eighty percent of children with her kind of cancer can be cured with the right medications.

But then her father, Mark Schoneveld, was told that her chemotherapy drug, methotrexate, was running out. "You just pray that stuff is handled by the professionals, and people do their jobs and get it done," he said to CBS News.

The reasons for the shortage included manufacturing problems and reduced production due to lower profits with generic drugs.

"The industry has to not be afraid to let the FDA know if they have a problem so that we can get in there and work with them and fix it before it results in a shortage," FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told CBS News.


Another story focused on the case of Abby Alonzo, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, in 2009, when she was 10 years old.

With proper treatment, 90 percent of patients survive.

Abby began a seven-drug regimen. But the following year, doctors told Abby's mother, Katie, there was a nationwide shortage of one of the medicines -- mechlorethamine.

"I started to get a little hysterical, 'Why is it not available?'" says Katie.

Doctors thought the next-best thing for patients like Abby was a drug called cyclophosphamide.

But a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed 88 percent treated with the original drug were cancer-free after two years -- compared to only 75 percent of those receiving the replacement drug.

"This is the first study to clearly show that when we substitute one drug for what we think is just an equally good drug, that's not always going to be the case. So it's demonstrating a negative impact on patients," says Dr. Richard Gilbertson, the director of cancer care at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Abby was one of the patients who relapsed. She then needed a bone marrow transplant, radiation and more chemotherapy to send the cancer into remission.

Read and watch more of Dr. LaPook's Emmy Award winning reports: