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May 7, 2018 - MCI to launch new specialty pharmacy

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MOBILE, Alabama (5/7/2018) – Cancer patients on certain therapies at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute will be able to get prescriptions filled at a new specialty pharmacy to be launched at MCI in Mobile later this month.

Now under construction, the pharmacy will be one of two specialty pharmacies in Mobile and only eight in Alabama. Specialty pharmacies dispense medicines that are not usually found at neighborhood pharmacies because the drugs are costly, more complicated to administer and not widely available.  The patients who take them also require closer supervision and overall monitoring. 

“Having our own specialty pharmacy located at MCI provides an easy process for physicians to order the oral chemotherapy, interact with the specialty pharmacy team and know that patients are getting the proper drug,” says Theresa McLaughlin, administrator of MCI Clinical Operations, who is overseeing the project.

In the past, MCI patients who receive oral chemotherapy drugs have typically been referred to specialty pharmacies, usually located out of state, that fill and mail prescriptions to patients with minimal personal interaction, McLaughlin said. The new specialty pharmacy located at MCI will bring the entire process to the cancer center, adding a human touch.

In 2017, 5,500 specialty prescriptions were written by MCI oncologists.   

MCIPharmacy 847.jpgBetter continuity of care is one reason for the new pharmacy, but MCI is also responding to a shift in treatment approaches, including the rise of targeted oral oncolytics, she said.  These medications, which have been prescribed since the early 2000s, are among the fastest-growing areas of cancer treatment, comprising more than 25 percent of anti-cancer therapies in development by pharmaceutical companies.  

While traditional IV chemotherapy has been shown to be effective, it can also damage healthy cells, resulting in side effects such as hair loss. New oral agents target cancer cells more specifically, as they are designed to attack particular malfunctioning proteins that cause cancer cells to grow and spread.  Because these flawed proteins are not found in normal cells, the drugs can have fewer side effects.  

An Uncommon Resource

The specialty pharmacy will be located in an 1,800-square-foot space on the second floor of MCI in Mobile.  As a closed retail pharmacy, it will fill prescriptions specifically written by MCI physicians for their patients. The medications will be limited to oral oncolytics and the supportive medications that treat side effects. While home delivery of prescriptions is an option, MCI patients can also visit the pharmacy during regular business hours, which will be Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  

Patient interaction will be one of the features of the new pharmacy.  Due to the complexities associated with an oral oncolytics, patients will require continuous education, monitoring and medication management by pharmacy staff.  The pharmacy will employ a pharmacist, pharmacy tech, two PRNs and a patient advocate whose sole function will be to help patients defray the cost of some of the drugs.

 “These drugs can be very costly,” explains MCI Specialty Pharmacy Manager Brittney Carden, PharmD.  “Some can range from $1,000 to $25,000 a month.  Most people cannot afford this expense, so part of the service we provide is financial assistance to help patients get their medications.” 

Furthermore, as the treatment of cancer evolves into a maintenance state, many cancer drugs could be prescribed for the remainder of a patient’s life.  Co-pays can pose a challenge.  Even those with insurance often face a 20 percent deductible. Support from private foundations is essential to cover costs.  Without it, treatment might not be affordable for most patients.

The pharmacy team will also help with adherence and compliance to avoid lapses in care.  The staff will coordinate with MCI physicians on a personalized care plan and provide education and counseling on medications.  Since Carden is specially trained in oral medications, she can intervene to prevent or lessen side effects associated with the drugs.

The ultimate goal is to offer the most advanced care for MCI patients, McLaughlin said. “I think the pharmacy and the services it provides will become an invaluable resource.”

About USA Mitchell Cancer Institute: USA MCI is the only academic cancer research and treatment facility on the upper Gulf Coast, with offices in Mobile, Fairhope and Monroeville.

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