Dana-Farber responds to national drug supply issues

Recent concerns about availability and authenticity of certain drugs have generated news headlines worldwide and raised anxiety levels for some cancer patients and their families.

Sylvia Bartel, RPh, MHP, Dana-Farber’s vice president of Pharmacy, says that although the cause of the two problems is unrelated, it underscores the need for continuous and careful monitoring and management of the Institute’s medications.

Dana-Farber’s pharmacy has verified that it has not received any counterfeit Avastin. It also continues to receive sufficient supplies of cancer drugs and medications, with the exception of Doxil®, to care for its current patients. There continues to be a national shortage of Doxil, which has caused oncologists, including those at Dana-Farber, to review and revise treatment plans for some patients.

To help ensure the quality and integrity of its drug supply, Bartel says that Dana-Farber utilizes a multiple step review and verification process, which includes:

1. Confirming the manufacturer and originating source of the drug;

2. Requiring the drug wholesaler to verify the pedigree of drug: Where the drug originated and all the points it traveled along the distribution chain; and

3. Inspecting the drug when it arrives at Dana-Farber’s pharmacy. Among other things, the pharmacy staff checks the product’s vial size, packaging, labeling, and lot number to see if anything is unusual or different than the previous supply.

“Because we are a cancer center, our pharmacy staff work with these drugs on a regular, if not daily, basis,” says Bartel. “This familiarity enables us to quickly notice any changes or differences in the packaging or documentation, which are some of the common red flags indicating that the drug should be inspected more closely.”

In response to the national shortage of several cancer drugs and related medications, Dana-Farber has taken aggressive steps to ensure it has adequate supplies to care for its patients.

The Institute has established a medication supply task force and has assigned a staff member to closely track the availability of cancer drugs and medications, especially those that are sold as generics, which have been more prone to supply shortages.

“It became apparent to us last year that the national supplies of several drugs were becoming more limited, so we implemented a more active process for anticipating the needs of our patients and working with our suppliers,” says Bartel.