ROHNERT PARK -- A new compounding pharmacy in Rohnert Park is pursuing what it says is an opportunity in sales of custom-made prescription drugs, at a time when shortages have increased demand both locally and nationally.

Redwood Compounding, which opened recently at 600 Martin Ave., specializes in making various versions of a number of medications that health care providers often have to purchase out of state, or at least out of region, which in turn can increase prices, potentially jeopardize quality and limit availability, said company founder Moussie Haile, who previously worked as a clinical pharmacist for Kaiser Permanente.

[caption id="attachment_55350" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="Dr. Moussie Haile founded Redwood Compounding recently in Rohnert Park."][/caption]

"We're sort of filling a unique gap in the North Bay," Dr. Haile said. "There's been a huge drug shortage nationally, and we've sort of stepped up and begun to make some of the medications."

According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, there are more than 200 drugs on a national shortage list, running a wide range from drugs used for anesthesia to pain killers to blood thinners and even veterinary drugs. Just a few years ago, the list contained a little over 100 drugs.

"It's sort of eye-opening," Dr. Haile said of the lengthy list, which is overseen and determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Prescription drug shortages can occur for a wide variety of reasons, among them manufacturing and quality issues, delays or discontinuations, according to the FDA.

"So doctors are either scrambling to figure out alternative methods, or they're figuring out there are some sterile compounding centers" that can assist in overcoming the shortage, Dr. Haile said.

That's where Redwood Compounding hopes to come in, providing hospitals and other health care providers with a local and accessible means of confronting the shortage. And while other pharmacies in the North Bay can do compounding, the key difference, Dr. Haile said, is that Redwood Compounding won't have a retail operation and will specifically cater to the needs of providers.

"I think if you're going to do compounding in a safe way, that's all you need to do," he said.

The Rohnert Park location, about 1,400 square feet, includes temperature-controlled labs and other features that ensure quality control is maintained throughout manufacturing, Dr. Haile said.

"You have to have what's called a high-risk facility," he said. "So we control the temperature, the air, the ventilation, even the floors, which resist bacterial growth." 

One of the main reasons for the shortage is poorly manufactured medicines, and by having a lab that ensures a level of cleanliness is key to the process, said Dr. Haile, who trained as a pharmacist at UCSF. 

As long as a drug is on the national shortage list, any pharmacist is free to make and market them. If and when the shortage is over, a pharmacist can no longer manufacturer the drug. 

While Redwood Compounding hopes to target large health systems and hospitals, individual consumers and veterinarians could also benefit from having access to otherwise hard-to-get prescriptions, Dr. Haile said.

"We'll be able to offer various products, custom-tailored for patients," he said. For instance, some patients may already be taking numerous medications that may not interact well with one another, but the compounding center can manufacture a topical cream or perhaps another alternative, Dr. Haile said.

He provided an example. "There was one woman, she was obese, and because of her weight, her knees were always inflamed and she was on ibuprofen and Vicodin. She contacted us, and I suggested she use a topical cream on her knee. A lot of drugs have difficulty penetrating the skin, but it penetrates and reduces inflammation and reduces pain. She was able to stay off the Vicodin," he said.

Redwood Compounding will be able to focus on a number of drugs, but Dr, Haile said pain medications and infusions would be one area of focus.

It can be difficult to convince local health care providers that they should opt for an alternative pharmaceutical product, however.

"The other part is educating physicians on some of these products," Dr. Haile said. "The pharmaceutical companies have done a great job of marketing their product. We're sort of battling that."

But, Dr. Haile added, Sonoma County gets much of its medications from out of state, and the North Bay could potentially be a solid market because of the number of hospitals -- four in Marin County and seven in Sonoma County -- and clinics versus the number of sterile compounding facilities.

 "A lot of clinics and hospitals that needed a specialty compound have had to go out of state or closer to Southern California," Dr. Haile said. "There's issues with transit and how it's stored. More than anything, we're looking to be a resource for the community. The other local compounders don't have the time to talk to physicians. They're dealing with 400 prescriptions a day in retail pharmacy. They're priority is sort of to move that line and dispense that. I've sort of taken a risk and started the most complicated part, and now we look to provide a unique service to the community."