USC School of Pharmacy and Keck Medicine of USC have partnered to create a new specialty pharmacy focusing on “high touch, high cost” medication therapy for hepatitis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.

Open in Alhambra since January, the specialty pharmacy exclusively provides medications that require prior authorization, counseling, follow-up and monitoring by clinical pharmacists, as well as refrigeration and other special handling.

Unlike a retail pharmacy that services walk-in customers, USC Specialty Pharmacy is a “closed-door” pharmacy primarily serving physicians and patients at Keck Hospital of USC, USC Norris Cancer Hospital and other members of the USC family of health care organizations, noted Krist Azizian, PharmD, Chief Pharmacy Officer and Associate Dean for Academic Medical Center Programs, Keck Medicine of USC.

The 7,000-square-foot facility is staffed by a growing team of clinical pharmacists, managed-care pharmacy technicians and reimbursement specialists who manage prior authorizations from start to finish, and ensure that patient care is integrated by confirming patients received their medication and are taking it properly. All medications dispensed at USC Specialty Pharmacy can be delivered by courier or mail, picked up at the Alhambra location, or picked up at USC’s retail pharmacy locations on the Health Sciences Campus and University Park campus.

“It’s a full-service pharmacy, both to our providers and to our patients,” Azizian said.

To date, the bulk of sales volume has been in the new antiviral treatments for hepatitis C, such as Harvoni, which costs an average of $1,125 per pill, or $94,500 for a 12-week course of treatment, and Sovaldi, which costs about $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment.

Other disease states include cancer, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Improving adherence and ensuring a high level of care through close monitoring for medication safety and efficacy, leading to optimal patient outcomes, is the top goal. “Our staff can handle even the most complex patient situation,” said Raffi Svadjian, PharmD, MBA, Senior Director of Specialty Pharmacy.

As a nonprofit academic institution that serves a population of low-income, uninsured and under-insured patients, USC is eligible to participate in the 340B Drug Discount Program, a U.S federal government program created in 1992 that requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs to eligible health care organizations at significantly reduced prices.

Every dollar of revenue from the pharmacy will be spent to enhance patient care at the USC family of health care organizations, which will in turn improve patient health outcomes and create new educational opportunities for students and residents, notes USC School of Pharmacy Interim Dean Glen L. Stimmel, PharmD. In the months to come, the pharmacy will expand by hiring additional specialists: an oncology pharmacist, a multiple sclerosis pharmacist, a rheumatology pharmacist, among others.

— Michele Keller