In wake of meningitis outbreak, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute explains compounding

Hundreds of fungal infections linked to injectable drugs made by a Framingham specialty pharmacy have sparked questions among regulators, hospitals, and patients about the role such drugmakers play in providing crucial drugs.

In an effort to educate patients about its drug compounding efforts, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has produced a video that goes into its pharmacy, showing how drugs are prepared and what steps the hospital takes to ensure that drugs are safe and sterile. Compounding is a little-known corner of pharmacy that involves preparing individualized doses for patients, but the company at the center of a major public health crisis, New England Compounding Center, was apparently acting more like a drug manufacturer, providing large batches of drugs and shipping them nationally.

Dana-Farber’s compounding pharmacy prepares 950 sterile products a day, including chemotherapy, anti-nausea medication, and intravenous fluids.

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“These products are prepared in a biological safety cabinet within the clean room, there is special staff preparation before going in the clean room, and it’s very much like working in an operating room,” said Sylvia Bartel, director of pharmacy at Dana-Farber, in the video.

In an e-mail, Dana-Farber spokeswoman Anne Doerr said that the hospital does all its own drug preparation.

“For safety, we have always compounded our own medications and now do so for other hospitals which no longer use” New England Compounding Center, Doerr wrote. She said the hospital is providing medications for Brigham and Women’s Hospital and has been doing so since New England Compounding closed, not because of emergency provisions put in place by the state last week to allow hospital pharmacies to provide drugs for other hospitals.