Study looks at vial size and cost of left over cancer drugs

To estimate costs associated with infused drugs discarded because they are left over after administration to a patient, Peter Bach of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and colleagues looked at 20 infused cancer agents with single-vial packaging and weight-based dosing. In the January 20, 2016 issue of BMJ, they report a range of 1% to 33% in the amount of drug left over following administration. After accounting for differences in drug price, they found that the value of products that would not be received by a patient under recommended dosing scenarios equals $1.8 billion or 10% of the combined 2016 sales for these drugs. Roughly $1 billion more is paid to hospitals, clinics, and other providers in the form of “buy and bill” markups for left over portions.

In most other settings, it would be a simple matter to set aside the left over product and use if for the next “customer” but, as is usually the case, the rules and practices governing pharmaceuticals are not so straightforward. The CDC states that single-use vials “should only be used for a single patient” because “these medications typically lack antimicrobial preservatives and can become contaminated.” Although the FDA’s position is not as clear cut as the CDC’s, it also cites microbial contamination along with medication errors as factors that “may” cause problems. CMS’ position, however, is that “it is permissible for healthcare personnel to administer repackaged doses derived from [single-dose vials] to multiple patients, provided that each repackaged dose is used for a single patient in accordance with applicable storage and handling requirements.” Meanwhile, the US Pharmacopeial Convention allows sharing only if the remaining drug is used within six hours and handled by specialized pharmacies.


Todd Clark
Todd Clark

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