Key Players Highlight Oncology Pharmacists’ Critical Role in Advancing the Field

Pharmacy Times Oncology Edition, August 2022, Volume 4, Issue 4

Professionals address key challenges including structural racism and the hematology-oncology pharmacist great migration.

Dismantling structural racism on a systems level is among several key challenges needing action from leaders in the oncology pharmacy field, explained keynote speaker Vibhuti Arya Amirfar, PharmD, MPH, during a session at the 2022 Advanced Topics for Oncology Pharmacy Professionals (ATOPP) Summit in July. Sessions at the summit also addressed challenges such as putting precision medicine into practice, comparing frontline renal cell carcinoma (RCC) regimens, addressing the hematology-oncology pharmacist great migration, and assessing the real-world impact of biosimilars on health care costs.

During the keynote address, Amirfar discussed the importance of building individual and systems resilience to dismantle structural racism in the pharmacy field. In an interview with Pharmacy Times®, Amirfar explained that she has found many individuals are tired of hearing about how they should build resilience individually to mitigate difficulties in their profession, such as burnout or situational stress at work. Amirfar said focusing on the systems themselves is critical, such as by assessing how to provide environments in which all team members not only survive but thrive.

In a session on the great migration of hematology-oncology, pharmacists from the field, panelists ZahraMahmoudjafari, PharmD, BCOP, DPLA; Alison Gulbis, PharmD, BCOP; and Kamakshi Rao, PharmD, BCOP, FASHP, discussed underlying causes of the migration beyond burnout. In an interview with Pharmacy Times®, Mahmoudjafari said her team’s research showed many emerging trends that have led to this migration, with some more obvious than others, such as a lack of support for oncology pharmacists to pursue board certification or attend conferences, as well as difficulties with patient ratios. Mahmoudjafari noted that her team was surprised to find these relatively attainable “low-hanging fruit” that institutions could implement quickly to retain staff.

During a panel discussion, panelist Alison Palumbo, PharmD, MPH, BCOP, provided real-world data comparing combination regimens used in treating frontline metastatic RCC. Although treatment of RCC has changed in recent years from immune checkpoint inhibitor monotherapies to combination regimens, Palumbo noted that there have not been head-to-head studies allowing oncology professionals to compare the new regimens, making it difficult to decide on an appropriate treatment for a particular patient. During the session, Palumbo and the other panelists aimed to provide oncology professionals with data to assist in such comparisons to aid in RCC treatment decisions.

In a session on the importance of implementing precision medicine programs into oncology practices, Andre Harvin, PharmD, MS, explained that although oncology professionals broadly understand the value of precision medicine in oncology, C suite executives at cancer centers may be harder to convince regarding return on investment (ROI) for such programs. In an interview with Pharmacy Times®, Harvin explained that oncology pharmacists are particularly well placed to define the why behind precision medicine in relation to ROI so that facts and data can resonate with C suite executives and all key players across the cancer care continuum.

Finally, during a panel discussion addressing the real-world impact of biosimilars on health care costs, moderator Jorge García, PharmD, MS, MHA, MBA, FACHE, explained that with rapid change in biosimilar payer benefit design, efforts to stay regularly updated on policy changes ahead of time have become critical for patient care in oncology. With the significant gain in clinical confidence in the demonstration process for biosimilars, García noted that the challenge remains in learning how to overcome roadblocks and manage opportunities that the evolution of biosimilars presents to oncology pharmacy practices.