The University of Minnesota Twin Cities has launched RoundtableRx, a nonprofit startup that will donate unused medications to Minnesotans across the state who struggle to afford their prescriptions.
The startup, spearheaded by students from the College of Pharmacy, is the state’s first medication repository. RoundtableRx will accept donations of unexpired medications from health care facilities that would otherwise be thrown away or flushed into the water supply and ensure the medications benefit people who are uninsured or otherwise unable to pay for them. The nonprofit was launched with the support of UMN Technology Commercialization’s Venture Center and is based in Minneapolis.
There are 325 long-term care facilities in Minnesota, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, that dispose of an estimated $16 million worth of safe, unexpired medication every year, according to estimates by the nonprofit association Care Providers of Minnesota. In 2017, Minnesota’s uninsured rate increased from 4.3 to 6.3 percent, leaving approximately 350,000 people without coverage, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. This year, COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue, causing even more individuals to lose coverage and face difficulties affording the medications they need.
“We’re wasting so much medication that’s safe,” said Rowan Mahon, founder and managing director of RoundtableRx and a recently graduated doctorate of pharmacy student. “It just is crazy to me that sometimes people have to make that decision between paying their rent, buying groceries or buying their medication. Our health care system sometimes puts people in that position, and I really want RoundtableRx to help with that."
Failure to take medications as instructed results in poorer health for patients and an increase in avoidable health care expenses through emergency room use and hospitalizations. In addition to improving health care outcomes and decreasing costs, medication repositories help prevent pharmaceutical waste from being flushed into the state’s water supply.
Medication repositories already exist in 21 other states, but state law previously prevented one in Minnesota. Mahon and fellow student Hannah Van Ochten led the advocacy to change the law starting in 2017, gathering support along the way from faculty members, legislators, and the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy. They succeeded in 2019 when bills sponsored by Rep. Todd Lippert and Sen. Scott Jensen led to a change in state law.
“Rowan’s perseverance and hard work to see this through is at the very heart of our mission to find solutions that meet the health needs of Minnesotans,” said Lynda Welage, PharmD, dean of the College of Pharmacy and member of RoundtableRx’s advisory board. “There is a tremendous need for this service that has likely been further exacerbated by ever-growing numbers of Minnesotans out of work due to the pandemic. We know that access to prescription drugs is a critical factor in helping people maintain their health. An accessible medication repository eases their financial burden, while also reducing the environmental impact of drug waste and addressing some pharmaceutical supply issues.”
To date, RoundtableRx has built collaborations with seven health care systems representing 33 hospitals and nearly 200 clinics statewide and has arrangements in place to receive donated medications from the largest long-term care facilities in the state. Moving forward, the nonprofit will continue to build its collaborations with health care, environmental and social service organizations to support the daily operations of receiving, managing and donating medications.
RoundtableRx will help address the greater need for access to medication brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The number of individuals who are losing their jobs is extremely significant, and when you lose your job, you lose insurance,” Mahon said. “As the pandemic continues, we know the medication shortages that are already happening are going to get worse. Our goal is to begin helping individuals across the state as quickly as possible.”
RoundtableRx recently placed second in the student division for the 2020 MN Cup competition, which connects emerging entrepreneurs from across the state with tools, resources and support to launch and accelerate the development of their new ventures.