The US Food and Drug Administration has urged pharmaceutical companies to provide advance warnings of production problems as drug shortages worsen.

Valerie Jensen, associate director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s drug shortage programme said that several factors are continuing to impact on the shortage of sterile injectables and other drugs.

The number of drug shortages has almost tripled in the past six years, with 178 shortages reported last year, and shortages of injectable drugs are becoming increasingly apparent, according to the FDA.

Pharmaceutical companies are currently required to give six months notice if they are planning to discontinue medically necessary drugs, and are encouraged to notify the FDA of any issue that could cause shortages.

The call for advance warnings comes a week after leading oncologists warned of rationing or delayed treatments for patients because of a short supply of generic cancer drugs, for which a lack of financial incentives for drug manufacturers has been blamed.