Interruptions in your drug manufacturing company’s supply chain can affect patient access to your drugs—and your business results.

In this edition of Ask a Supply Chain Expert, we asked Crissy Cecil, director of business development for McKesson’s drug packaging group, how you can combine good communications with effective drug packaging to minimize interruptions and improve your clinical and financial outcomes.

What are you responsible for in your role at McKesson?

Cecil: My team is responsible for buying generic drugs—usually in bulk—and packaging them as needed for the marketplace. We primarily package them in unit doses for hospital pharmacies. But we also do some packaging for retail pharmacies.

What is a drug manufacturer’s biggest operational challenge?

Cecil: I think the biggest operational challenge drug manufacturers have is communication with their distributors, whether that’s McKesson or someone else. It can be communicating the launch of a new drug, the discontinuation of one of their drugs or just the availability of the active pharmaceutical ingredients they need to make their drugs. Not communicating those things effectively can lead to delays in their supply chain—delays that they could have avoided so patients could get the drugs that they need.

Why is communication with distributors so important?

Cecil: It gives your supply chain partner time to come up with a solution. You want your packaging tested and all lined up before launch, for example, so there’s no delay in reaching the market. If you’re discontinuing a drug, you want its replacement ready to go with no gap in supply. If you’re having an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) problem, give your distribution partner time to help you find an alternative source.

Why aren’t drug manufacturers communicating those things effectively?

Cecil: A lot of it has to do with timing. Manufacturers don’t want to tell their distributor too soon, because they don’t want their distributor to switch to another drug and get stuck with unused product. So more often than not, they tell us or their customers too late. Sometimes we don’t know at all until they stop shipments. That puts everyone behind, and a drug can run the risk of being in short supply or out of stock before you can replace it. That can have a real impact on patients. The sooner everyone knows, the better. A six-month or even longer lead time
would be ideal.

How do delays in communication affect drug packaging?

Cecil: There’s a misconception that we are going to stop buying instantly and start repackaging something else from a competitor. That’s not the case. We do extensive lab and stability testing on a drug and how we package it. We’ve invested in your drug—so much so that it’s tough to change, and we don’t want to change unless we have to. And if we have to, it’s better to know as soon as possible so we can do our lab and stability testing on your replacement drug and get that into the supply chain in the right packaging without any disruption to patients.

What are you testing drug packaging for?

Cecil: What we’re testing is whether the drug maintains its stability in the unit-dose packaging that we ship to customers to dispense to patients. This is the requirement for the patient safety part of what we do, and it’s the most important thing we do. The integrity of the packaging is a must. We need to ensure that the right drug is getting to the right patient in the right dose at the right time. When that nurse pops a pill out of a blister pack at your bedside in the emergency room, it needs to be just as effective as when it left the manufacturer.

How can packaging affect the stability of a drug?

Cecil: A lot of things can affect the APIs in a drug or the structure of a medication. Temperature. Moisture. Light. If your packaging doesn’t stop those things from affecting your drug, the ingredients can break down. It could crumble. It could take on water, which would affect its absorption rate by the body. Your drug could be less effective, useless or even harmful to patients. So when we stability test our packaging, our goal is to meet the packaging standards and stability results that the manufacturer sets.

How do supply chain disruptions affect drug manufacturers from a business perspective?

Cecil: When you have interruptions in your supply chain, whether they’re from poor communication or problems with packaging, it’s more likely that your customers will buy someone else’s product. When they need a drug, they want to be able to scan the bar code on the last box or bottle on the shelf and re-order what they need. They’re not in the business of sitting there and shopping online for what they need. They’re in the business of taking care of patients. Once you lose that spot on their shelf, it’s very difficult to get it back. The only way you’ll get it back is if your competitor has an outage and they have to switch back to you. That’s why it’s so important from a business perspective to minimize any interruptions in your supply chain through good communication and effective packaging.

What do you enjoy most about working with drug manufacturers on their supply chain performance?

Cecil: I’ve worked in manufacturing in other industries where there are a lot of peaks and valleys in what customers want. Healthcare is totally different. In healthcare, there is this consistent need in the market for new and more effective drugs. That drives the whole system forward. It creates demand for new and better ways to package drugs and improve the whole pharmaceutical supply chain. When you think about it, drug packaging is the last safety check before a drug reaches a patient. I enjoy being part of that. I enjoy seeing the big picture. And the big picture is knowing that what we do helps patients by improving drug safety and getting them the medications they need.

Editor’s note: Have a question for one of our supply chain experts? Please leave a comment below and let us know what you’d like to see covered in a future edition of Ask a Supply Chain Expert.

Related: Learn more about McKesson’s drug packaging solutions for pharmaceutical manufacturers

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McKesson editorial staff is committed to sharing innovative approaches and insights so our customers can get the most out of their business solutions and identify areas for operational improvement and revenue growth.

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