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According to a new BMJ study out today, drug companies, hospitals and oncologists are on track to be paid about $3 billion for leftover cancer drugs that end up thrown away

Dan Gorenstein, Senior Reporter at Marketplace's Health Desk, took an early look at the findings. 

On how drug packaging effects the producers profits:

Let's take this one drug for melanoma, Keytruda, as an example. It's packaged right now in 100 milligram vials. The typical patient needs 150 milligrams, so the hospital or the doctor is going to have to order two vials, and the question is, what happens to the remaining 50 milligrams? Put it all together, and the paper says that the companies who produce the top selling 20 single dose vials of cancer drugs will make an additional $1.8 billion from this kind of waste. This includes firms like Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Amgen, Genentech and others.    

On solutions:

At the end, of the day lots of these doctors, these oncologists and cancer centers, these well-meaning people, aren't pushing back against the drug manufacturer saying, 'You need to package this in a way so we can maximize efficiency for our own customers, the patients.' At the same time, the authors of this report say another solution is to require the manufacturers to be more flexible in the packaging size so it's easier to line up what you need and waste less. But a couple of folks I talked to have said to me, 'Look, if you do that, and the drug companies can't make as much money as they had been off of the packaging size, then they're just gonna raise the prices.' And so one way or the other, we're probably gonna end up spending the same amount of money, but one of the questions is: how much of that money is gonna be spent just on stuff that's being thrown away? 

 

Follow Molly Wood at @mollywood