Specialty Pharmacy: Thoughts on a Blossoming Industry

Specialty pharmacy relies heavily on the constantly-evolving development of new medicines and therapies.

In a relatively brief period of time, specialty pharmacy has gone from its unnamed, semi-nebulous infancy to a solidified section of pharmacy that now drives the practice as a whole. Specialty pharmacists apply a hands-on approach to patient-centered care that has helped maintain the profession’s reputation for trustworthiness and excellence.

Pharmacists genuinely care for their patients, and in an ideal world, the profession would work so well providing therapy that they would find themselves out of a job. The profession of pharmacy will be needed and active until all diseases are cured, and specialty pharmacy is the channel to push this goal forward.

While none of us may be around to see that day, and it is hard to imagine a disease-free future, this lofty goal is nonetheless one to strive for. Pharmacy has had a wonderful history, and will undoubtedly see a bright future. The tools used with precision to apply the art of pharmacy have served the profession well in the past, and those same knowledge-based tools will benefit pharmacists and their patients in the future.

Specialty pharmacy relies heavily on the constantly-evolving development of new medicines and drug therapies. The research and development of drugs has extended life expectancy, allowing for many diseases and infections to be thought of as nuisances, rather than death sentences as they had in the past.

As an example, because of the variety of antiretroviral medications available to treat HIV patients, those diagnosed with HIV can receive treatment to “live longer, healthier lives,” the National Institutes of Health states. A more specific example of drug therapy developed to save lives that were once deemed incurable involves the novel therapy Kalydeco (ivacaftor).

This drug is used to treat patients with cystic fibrosis caused by the G551D mutation in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane regulator gene. FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, describes Kalydeco as “an excellent example of the promise of personalized medicine — targeted drugs that treat patients with a specific genetic makeup.”

Specialty pharmacy promises to be at the forefront of this type of drug therapy treatments. Specialty pharmacy is a channel through which personalized medicine can evolve and guide patients to success. A unique feature of specialty pharmacy is the patient population that it serves.

The field treats patients who suffer from degenerative disorders, diseases that appear from recessive traits and other rare ailments. At times, the patient population can be large, such as among those presenting with hypercholesterolemia. In other cases, the patient population is extremely small, as with the patient population presenting hemophilia.

In all cases, the specialty pharmacist must be equipped to be the drug therapy expert and clearly understand the side effects, dosing, and administration techniques to treat their patient. A benefit that specialty pharmacy provides is that pharmacists can dedicate more time to focus specifically on their patients and ensure that the patient receives closely examined care.

This is due in part to the way that specialty pharmacy is designed to facilitate health care for people who cannot afford to fall through the cracks. For new pharmacists entering the profession, specialty pharmacy is a great avenue to build a career.

Specialty pharmacy allows professionals with a variety of interests to participate, whether they want to focus on patient care, drug research, financials, or have a desire to learn about the cutting edge of medicine. The role of a specialty pharmacist often involves working in conjunction with other health care professionals, including nurses, doctors, and other clinical staff.

Through professional collaboration with other health care providers, a new pharmacist in the field can learn a great amount about treating their patients and working to build an overarching treatment plan. Additionally, young pharmacists seeking to develop a professional trajectory can rest assured that entering the specialty pharmacy field would promise them a long career path.

Specialty pharmacy will clearly be needed and welcomed by the medical community for the long-term foreseeable future. With advances in personalized medicine and an ever-growing focus on research and development, specialty pharmacists will always have more chances to get involved and opportunities to grow.

Clearly, specialty pharmacy is an exciting endeavor for pharmacists and patients. The practice of medicine is better off because of the competent minds that comprise the specialty pharmacy field. In the future, specialty pharmacy is poised to grow even more valuable and necessary, as it stands at the forefront of patient care and drug treatments.

About the Author

John Meehan earned his PharmD degree from Duquesne University in 2010. John worked in retail pharmacy in rural North Carolina before transitioning to a clinical pharmacist position at Chartwell PA in Pittsburgh, PA. John is currently enrolled in the Masters of Science in Pharmacy Business Administration (MSPBA) program at the University of Pittsburgh, a 12-month, executive-style graduate education program designed for working professionals striving to be tomorrow’s leaders in the business of medicines.