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Research uncovers ways to reduce the cost of chemotherapy drugs

22 August 2017

Peter Gilbar
Experienced pharmacist consultant Peter Gilbar led an international research team, which examined cancer medications in 20 different countries.

An international study led by a Toowoomba Hospital pharmacist has uncovered a number of ways to reduce the cost of expensive chemotherapy drugs.

Experienced pharmacist consultant Peter Gilbar led an international research team, which examined cancer medications in 20 different countries.

The study was recently published in the journal Future Oncology, outlining a number of ways to reduce expenditure associated with chemotherapy drugs that can cost thousands of dollars.

"I was prompted to undertake this research as spending on cancer drugs is increasing at an alarming rate and is of global concern," Mr Gilbar said.

"The community may not be aware that many of the newer chemotherapy drugs we administer at the hospital can cost over five thousand dollars for a single dose."

"We are lucky that in Australia the majority of chemotherapy drugs are subsidized by the government through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, but an enormous burden is still placed on the economy and society."

Mr Gilbar said that after analysing the data from the different countries, it became clear that there were some relatively simple ways to make savings.

"The key finding of our research was the great opportunity to reduce the waste that can occur with these expensive medications," he said.

"A number of chemotherapy drugs are only available in one vial size, say 200 mg, but the patient’s correct dose, calculated on their body size, may only be 130 mg meaning that 70 mg is discarded."

"This pattern was seen the world over, meaning that billions of dollars’ worth of drugs have been thrown out."

Mr Gilbar said that another key issue the research uncovered was to do with the stability of chemotherapy drugs prepared for patients.

"When drugs are compounded in hospitals they generally have a shelf life of only 24 hours due to a lack of usable physical and microbiological stability data; if a patient is cancelled or delayed, their drugs are no longer able to be used and therefore wasted."

Mr Gilbar said that the research paper suggested a number of simple strategies that could significantly reduce spending on cancer drugs.

"The objective of these strategies is to achieve savings, not from reducing the purchase price of the drugs, but rather from better utilising current medications by minimising wastage," he said.

"Some of the key recommendations of the study are to guarantee the availability of a range of vial sizes in all countries and to encourage the use of options to share vials.

"However, to actually enact these strategies negotiation between governments and the pharmaceutical industry will be required, as well as changes in legislation in many countries."

Mr Gilbar said an additional benefit of these ideas is that they could also provide help with the increasing numbers of drug shortages that are occurring worldwide.

"In Kenya, doctors are only able to access about 37% of the cancer drugs they need, compared to Australia where we have around 98%, so it is important to find ways to conserve chemotherapy drugs as best we can," Mr Gilbar explained.

"I hope this research will play an important role in reducing expenditure on cancer medications and help us be more efficient so that any saved drugs can get to the patients who need them."

Last updated: 31 August 2017