Profiling Agilum’s experts: Bonnie Labdi

Bonnie Labdi, Clinical Director, Oncology

Bonnie Labdi’s reputation in the pharmacy world preceded her. She spent 19 years as a clinical pharmacy specialist in the field of hematology/oncology, working for several large healthcare systems. She held many academic appointments, has been widely published in peer-reviewed journals, and has presented research at national and international oncology meetings. Bonnie continues to remain active in numerous professional pharmacy, hematology, and oncology organizations, and has most recently been selected for membership in the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE).

It was no surprise when a member of Agilum’s leadership team reached out to Bonnie when they were seeking someone with a wealth of clinical expertise in both pharmacy and oncology to join their growing team. As a member of the Clinical Solutions team, Bonnie is charged with providing clinical insight and guidance to clients utilizing Agilum’s revolutionary pharmacy analytics tool, CRCATM P&T.

“My current position at Agilum is definitely a departure from direct patient care and academia,” Bonnie said. “Although I thoroughly enjoyed what I was able to accomplish in my previous areas of practice, Agilum represented a unique opportunity to help so many more patients by working collaboratively with their healthcare providers and organizations to ensure that the highest level of medical care is being provided while keeping costs lower — a win-win for the patient and their healthcare team.”

Bonnie began the newest chapter of her career with Agilum in April 2021.

You are the Clinical Director of Oncology, which is a new position at Agilum. Can you talk about your role and what you’ll be doing?

As a member of the Clinical Solutions team, my focus will be on analyzing the usage of antineoplastic drugs, the agents we use to treat patients with cancer. This is an ever-growing class of drugs and includes the traditional chemotherapy agents, biologics, monoclonal antibodies, and immunotherapy, among others. The cost of these newer classes of anti-cancer drugs is very high. As with everything today in the medical profession, much emphasis is being placed on reducing the total cost of care. Another current area of focus is on providing high-quality healthcare to the underserved population. As I see it, Agilum’s role is to ensure that both pressing issues are addressed for our clients and their patients.

As a clinical pharmacist seeing patients every day at my last position at an academic medical center, much of my work was focused on choosing the right drug for a particular patient in any given scenario. Balancing the desired clinical outcomes with the financial costs was critically important not only to the institution, but to the patient as well. Choosing a drug that was not a preferred agent on the patient’s insurance plan would result in higher out-of-pocket costs for the patient. As you can imagine, these patients have enough to worry about without having to figure out how to pay for their treatment.

In my current position, I will have the opportunity to positively impact not just the 50 or 100 patients I would see in the clinic, but more like thousands. By reviewing and analyzing the data in CRCA with our healthcare partners, we can identify areas where their drug costs are high and find opportunities to reduce those costs, while maintaining the highest level of care in accordance with published clinical guidelines.

What is it about oncology and hematology that makes them important disciplines to target?

If you ask any director of pharmacy in a clinic or hospital setting to list the top 10 most expensive drugs, in most cases, seven or eight of those drugs would be used in oncology. Myeloid growth factors such as Neulasta or an immunotherapy agent like Keytruda definitely come to mind. I think Keytruda is the one drug that is on the tip of everybody’s tongue right now because it can be used in so many different cancer types. It is usually number one or two in terms of total drug spend. If a clinic is treating cancer patients, in many cases, those patients are being treated with Keytruda.

These are very expensive drugs, so I see my role again as trying to make sure that the appropriate guidelines, such as the NCCN guidelines used for oncology, are being followed. I will also reference peer-reviewed articles and clinical trials to make sure that one, our clients are providing the best possible care available, and two, determine if there is any way we can help alleviate some of the cost. I know directors of pharmacy are extremely interested in trying to cut their drug spend, and oncology drugs are certainly not getting any less expensive.

What excited you about the role at Agilum?

Working in the clinic, I found myself getting pulled away from my patient care duties in order to do paperwork and other administrative things, and it became quite frustrating. Medicine has evolved, not all of it for the better. We spend more time filling out paperwork and being on the phone with insurance companies trying to justify everything that we do. I think that is why you see so many physicians getting burned out, retiring, switching careers even, and you see this in the pharmacy world as well.

I love working with patients. I have spent my entire 19 years — two years of residency and then 17 years after that — in direct patient care roles. A friend of mine who graduated pharmacy school a couple of years ahead of me had shared this opportunity with me about four months ago. At the time, I was not actively searching for a new job, but the more I researched Agilum and its leaders, the more intrigued I became with the unique tools and services they offered. They were looking for someone trained in oncology and possessing extensive clinical experience, and the pieces just started to fall into place. Now that I am here, I feel like I am part of a team that is passionate about making a difference.

Can you share a couple of interesting things about yourself that have nothing to do with your current career?

After graduating from high school, I postponed going to college and moved to Cozumel, Mexico. I was an avid SCUBA diver, and I had taken several trips down there previously. Within six months, I was fluent in Spanish. I lived there for two years before coming back to Houston.

The other interesting thing that comes to mind is that I worked as a supervisor for the Houston Police Department – I spent 13 years there. I transferred to night shift so that I could attend pharmacy school during the day. I remember people would ask me about my hobbies, and my answer was always the same – I like to sleep! Believe me, going to pharmacy school during the day and working nights at the police department full-time was a handful, and any downtime I had was usually spent taking a nap.