Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ottawa Should Regulate Some Drug Prep Firms in Wake of Chemo Scare: Report

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ottawa Should Regulate Some Drug Prep Firms in Wake of Chemo Scare: Report

Article excerpt

Ottawa urged to regulate some drug prep firms

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TORONTO - Health Canada should regulate all entities that mix drugs outside a licensed pharmacy, said an expert who investigated why more than 1,200 cancer patients in two provinces received diluted chemotherapy drugs.

Ottawa should step in because it's a "cross-border issue," Dr. Jake Thiessen said Wednesday after releasing his report commissioned by the Ontario government.

"I believe in the safe and best interests of the nation of Canada, we need an agency that has national authority to actually regulate all of this," he said.

He also urged Ontario to bring in stronger rules for licensed pharmacies, by inspecting and licensing those in the province's clinics and hospitals as well as pharmacies that prepare large volumes of drug mixtures.

The recommendations come four months after it was discovered that 1,202 patients in Ontario and New Brunswick -- including 40 children -- received diluted chemo drugs, some for as long as a year.

Extra saline in bags containing cyclophosphamide and gemcitabine effectively watered down the prescribed drug concentrations by up to 10 per cent, his report found.

Marchese Hospital Solutions, which provided the mixture to four hospitals in Ontario and one in New Brunswick, fell in a jurisdictional grey area, with the federal government and Ontario College of Pharmacists unable to agree on who was responsible for the facility.

Hospitals are responsible for the purchase and security of their drugs. Health Canada regulates and inspects drug manufacturers, while the college is responsible for pharmacists in Ontario.

Thiessen said he found flaws throughout the cancer drug supply chain, but concluded that there was "no evidence of any malicious or deliberate drug-sparing dilution" by Marchese.

The hospitals that received the drugs weren't aware that the bags contained extra saline and didn't adjust the doses accordingly.

Group purchaser Medbuy, which arranged the contract with Marchese on behalf of the hospitals, didn't specify the drug concentration in the finished product, which led to the confusion between the hospitals and the company, Thiessen found.

What impact the dilution had on the affected patients -- which included a small number who weren't being treated for cancer -- isn't known, he said.

But the overall effect was probably small, given that the dilution factor was low and, in most cases, the mixture was combined with other chemo drugs before being administered to the patient, he said.

The risk was probably greater with patients taking gemcitabine, since a quarter of them weren't taking any other chemo drug. Almost all patients who received cyclophosphamide were taking it in combination with other drugs.

To close the oversight gap, Thiessen's 12 recommendations outline a clear division between provincial and federal responsibilities. …

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