The Power of Partnership in Weathering Supply Challenges

Over the last two years, supply shortages have ranged from the mild inconvenience of not being able to purchase a favorite brand to major disruptions when stores cannot stock everyday essentials like toilet paper or disinfecting wipes. But another consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the challenge of maintaining adequate supplies of drugs for potentially life-threatening diseases like cancer. Many of the most common drugs used to treat cancer today are generic sterile injectables, which are particularly susceptible to supply shortages, even prior to the pandemic.

Supply interruptions have traditionally resulted from a shortage of an active pharmaceutical ingredient, a manufacturing problem or a Form 483 (“Notice of Inspectional Observations”) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, indicating observed deficiencies in a quality system, or conditions that violate the Food, Drug, or Cosmetic Act (e.g., sterility issues, particulates in vials). In today's environment, even component parts are driving supply challenges, such as the glass used to make the vials, rubber stoppers, and even the plunger tips for syringes. In order to prioritize production of the COVID-19 vaccine, the federal government invoked the Defense Production Act, which had an unintended side effect of delaying the production of other drugs, particularly those that use the same components. Unfortunately, the move resulted in shortages and further complicated the problem by casting doubt on the availability of some of these crucial medicines.

Some supply shortages are tied to the reimbursement system. Given the tight and eroding margins on many drugs, especially generics, manufacturers debate whether to keep manufacturing a particular drug or pivot to another drug when they are losing money. To put this in perspective, there are life-saving cancer drugs that cost less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks, so manufacturers consider if investing those same resources in another product with a healthier return makes better financial sense.

“This isn’t something that manufacturers could, or should, look to solve on their own,” said Ben Jones, vice president, Government Relations & Public Policy, The US Oncology Network. “The key to addressing drug shortages is making sure that policymakers are focused on the issue and that they continue to look at ways to solve the underlaying, often overlapping, problems. There is no silver bullet here, but it is critical that we keep focused on this issue and for Congress, to the extent that they can, to empower the regulatory bodies to be more flexible and eager to explore tailored solutions for each individual situation.”

The healthcare supply chain is complicated, and it is critical that practices have a partner that understands what is happening and – just as important – what could happen in the future. McKesson’s unique approach to product/manufacturer management and allocation strategy enhances our ability to deliver a stable and continuous supply, particularly in times of high demand, even if the company is told by a supplier that there may be challenges to availability. Our team builds close relationships with a vast network of trusted manufacturers to ensure an ongoing supply of what matters most to providers and the patients who are under their care.

According to Leslie T. Busby, M.D., chairman of the Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committees of both The US Oncology Network and Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, “When there's a drug shortage, communication is critical, and we need to know how it will impact the practice and the patients who rely on these medications. We need to have this information so we can adjust. Having a partner like McKesson is important because through their offerings, they can help mitigate these issues. This helps me and my colleagues ensure that patient needs are addressed, whether it’s ensuring supply of a medication or providing information regarding alternative options.”

As a trusted partner, McKesson is committed to working with customers to find ways to help practices solve problems and provide a continuity of supply for the therapies their patients need. We have all seen that America’s supply chain system is not perfect and is susceptible to shortages. The unfortunate truth is that, right now, overall demand for many therapeutic products exceeds the available supply. Through a combination of its analytics, portfolio strategy and the strength of its manufacturer relationships, McKesson is creating less volatility for customers and supporting thousands of providers and millions of patients around the country. We work hard every day to prevent disruptions in the supply of life-saving drugs for the practices we work with and, ultimately, for the patients who stand to benefit from these medications.