Canada is facing a critical shortage of two cancer drugs

Nabil Anas
Nabil Anas

Global Courant

Canada is currently experiencing a serious shortage of two drugs: one used to fight thyroid cancer and another for a form of leukemia.

According to Health Canada, there are currently national shortages of Thyrotropin Alfa, which is used to treat thyroid cancer, and Asparaginase, which is also known as Erwinase and is used to treat a type of leukemia that causes blood and bone marrow.

It is not clear how many patients this concerns.

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“Cancer drug shortages remain a serious and growing problem within the Canadian healthcare system that has impacted the delivery of patient care and treatment for years,” the Canadian Cancer Society said in a statement to “We know that shortages are very worrying for people with cancer and their families — it’s just not acceptable to be without the medicines you need.”

The shortages follow US reports of the unavailability of key chemotherapy drugs such as carboplatin and cisplatin, which are used to treat a range of cancer types. Health Canada says both remain available in the country, which has multiple suppliers.

According to Health Canada, there were also shortages in 2022 of cancer medications such as Inqovi, paclitaxel powder, hydroxyurea, Zepzelca and fludarabine, all of which have now been resolved.

A spokesman for Health Canada says the health care system is maintaining existing stocks of Thyrotropin Alfa pending a resupply from a pharmaceutical company, which has promised to speed up production. Health Canada is addressing the asparaginase deficiency by importing approved supplies abroad and approving an alternative product known as Rylaze.

“The department continues to closely monitor both critical shortages and is working with stakeholders to mitigate impacts on patients,” a Health Canada spokesperson told “Drug shortages can occur for many reasons, including problems at a manufacturing site, a delay in shipping, problems obtaining raw materials or ingredients, a discontinuation of a drug, or an unexpected increase in demand.”

- Advertisement - contacted the provinces and several regional and municipal health organizations, many of which noted intermittent shortages of oncology drugs. In addition to Thyrotropin Alfa, the thyroid cancer drug, Nova Scotia Health said it is currently monitoring a shortage of dexrazoxane, also known as Zinecard, which is used in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. There is currently no impact on patient care.

“In recent months and years, many different cancer drugs have been deficient,” a Nova Scotia Health spokesperson told “In Nova Scotia, as in other provinces, when there is a drug shortage, cancer care teams come together to make decisions to maximize the best outcome for all patients on that particular therapy. They discuss other treatment options if they exist and then coordinate and implement strategies.”

According to Health Canada, the country is currently experiencing a shortage of at least 23 medicines.

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“Drug shortages vary in severity and duration, and not all shortages impact patients,” said the Health Canada spokesperson. “Health Canada takes a leadership role when projected or actual national drug shortages are identified, working with provincial and territorial governments, industry stakeholders, healthcare system partners and patient groups.”

Canada is facing a critical shortage of two cancer drugs

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