Trends in Oncology Pharmacy Will Drive the Market Beyond 2022

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

New drugs, virtual care, and a patient-focused approach are key during this period of transformation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes in 2022, the demand for innovation will increase. Pharmacists are expanding their scope of practice and filling gaps in care left by a shortage of well-trained oncologists and nurses.

Oncology pharmacists understand the need to gain expertise in virtual care and complex treatments to close education and information gaps caused by overwhelmed oncologists and other providers. They are also assuming the role of advocates for generic or lower-cost options for uninsured or underinsured patients.

A growing number of oncology pharmacists are also shifting into more high-value, patient-focused roles in response to trends that will continue to remodel the market in 2022 and beyond.1 These pharmacists will play a critical role in shaping the future of oncology pharmacy growth in a more strategic way. As a result, more oncology pharmacists will begin to embrace new revenue streams based on patients’ needs for proactive care coordination and convenience.

New Oncology Drugs and Personalized Medicine

The pharmaceutical industry continues to launch oncology therapies at a rapid pace. With over 21 new drugs approved to treat cancer in 2021, the industry broke its record of 20 cancer drug approvals, which was set in 2020.2 There has also been a fast acceleration of precision medicine, which gives oncology pharmacists the ability to choose a medication and dose based on patient-specific genomic factors.

Furthermore, clinical trial recruitment has shifted to the virtual world, which has sparked a rise in clinical trials that is likely to continue. This presents the possibility for more clinical trials and more participating patients gaining greater access to new treatment options.

Oncology Specialty Pharmacy
Oncology specialty pharmacies (SP) will continue to adopt innovative SP management programs that are designed to better support patient-based drug utilization plans, optimize oncology therapy selection, and maximize cost management outcomes. As demand for evidence-based drug management strategies rises among health plans and prescription benefit managers, this trend will drive appropriate cancer therapy selection.

Rise in Digital Care
Heightened patient awareness and demand for virtual care are developing a shift toward greater reliance on digital technology across pharmacies that are striving to remain competitive. In acknowledgment of this shift, oncology patients have adjusted to telehealth and now expect more options, including remote, on-demand access to health care providers. This is enabling oncology pharmacies to adapt to tech-driven care delivery.

Over the next 5 years, the global pharmacy automation market is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7%, with no signs of stopping in the near future.3 Pharmacies are now tasked to provide more flexible, intelligent solutions.

Industry-Wide Focus on Specialty Pharmacy
As SP gains greater focus across all stakeholders, expect expanded, specialized services to help patients with cancer better address not only the challenges associated with oncology specialty drug management, but also everyday lifestyle issues related to missing work, forgoing income, and reliance on family caregivers.

In 2022, emerging key trends impacting the market for oncology SP include the continued utilization and rising costs of specialty agents, emergence of ultra high‑cost specialty agents and cell/gene therapies for rare and orphan diseases, more focused management of the high-cost specialty drug patients to ensure adherence and optimize outcomes, and vertical integration of specialty pharmacies into health care organizations. Additionally, greater focus on specialty pharmacy and further integration of its role into health care systems can better ensure specialty drugs are seamlessly accessed by prescribed patients and that drug therapies are monitored for efficacy and adherence to treatment.

Financial Considerations
A patient’s ability to pay for specialty medications will continue to be an issue, as specialty drug costs remain prohibitively high for many patients, adding barriers to patient accessibility. With patients’ out-of-pocket costs for specialty drugs increasing faster than gross domestic product growth over the past decade, a subsequent trend of note will be a greater reliance on customized co-pay assistance programs and innovative financial and technology solutions to help offset the high cost of cell/gene therapies and other novel agents, which can make a real difference for patients and payers.

Carving Out Specialty Drugs

Additionally, another consideration for the SP space that can impact the market is the carve‑out of specialty drugs from the medical and pharmacy benefit, which can help to reduce costs, expand the availability of specialty drugs, and promote enhanced patient health outcomes. To accomplish these objectives, appropriate medication therapy management and utilization management programs can be customized and aligned for each plan sponsor.

In 2022, biosimilars are poised to trend upward because of several additional blockbuster drugs losing patent protection. The rising burden of various chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, will continue to fuel the biosimilar market, with affordability impacting market adoption.

Patient-First Approach to Pharmacy

In response to all these trends, a patient-first approach to oncology pharmacy—in which every care decision is made based on what is best for the patient—allows all stakeholders to connect seamlessly rather than operating independently. This results in a higher level of care continuity that strengthens communication, yields rich data for optimizing outcomes, and improves the overall patient experience.

Patient-first, specialty-focused care teams typically include care coordinators, pharmacists, nurses, and other specialists who are all focused on the disease state, patient community, and therapy.3 They deliver customized care coordination and telehealth solutions as an added layer that fosters discussion among the patient, oncology pharmacist, and other clinicians.

By incorporating assessments and interventions at key points in therapy, the care team can better manage adverse effects (AEs) and capture real-world evidence around the therapy, condition, and patient’s well-being. All these critical data are then compiled for outcomes reporting.

A patient engagement strategy also takes a multilayered approach that includes various channels of communication, such as text, phone, and email. The strategy chosen for primary communication should be based on the customer’s preferences and what generates the best response for each patient.

In a world of shrinking options and sophisticated technology, the patient-first approach offers something that has gone missing in the US health care system: the human touch. By providing an elevated level of customized care, oncology pharmacists can help caregivers manage AEs and ensure patient feels heard.

When oncology pharmacists take a patient-first approach, they are able to cultivate a deeper relationship with patients and family caregivers, offering personalized information, care insights, and greater support that leads to improved outcomes and enhanced quality of life.


  1. Christie M. 6 Trends Shaping Pharmacy Growth and Automation in 2022. Cover My Meds website. January 6, 2022. Accessed February 25, 2022.
  2. Steiber D. Trends in Oncology Pharmacy in 2022. Pharmacy Times. February 7, 2022. Accessed February 25, 2022.
  3. Quill D. A Patient-First Approach. Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare website. April 21, 2021. Accessed February 25, 2022.

About the Author
Dea Belazi, PharmD, MPh
is the president and CEO of AscellaHealth.