Shining Light on a Traditionally Overlooked Pharmaceutical Function

In days past at social gatherings, I had become accustomed to glazed eyes when I answered the question, ‘What do you do?’. As Head of Global Supply for Jazz Pharmaceuticals, I oversee a function that has historically been behind the scenes, seen as technical and candidly, not very exciting.

However, the global COVID-19 pandemic and other potentially disruptive events, such as Brexit, have brought greater awareness of pharmaceutical supply chains and their importance into the mainstream. With the extraordinary challenge pharmaceutical companies face in delivering vaccines globally, the concepts of “cold-chain” and “inventory” are no longer industry-only topics, but rather are also now frequent news stories. The process of how we link manufacturing to patients has become more important than ever.

I welcome this attention on supply chains because it gives me the opportunity to describe the remarkable innovation, collaboration and agility required daily to get medicines where they need to go. If we can do this, in a way that drives the discipline forward, then that is a good thing for patients.

So, what does go into getting a medicine where it needs to be? When broken down, the objectives for building a supply chain are actually simple. A pharmaceutical company needs sufficient materials, facilities and skilled colleagues to ensure that medicines are provided to patients at the required time.

The practical realities are complex, of course. At Jazz Pharmaceuticals, one recent example that brings this challenge to life is the process we went through to make one of our sleep medicines available to patients in Europe. Beyond different languages, each European country also has some unique rules and requirements, meaning that the same medicine often needs customized packaging for different countries. For the first time for Jazz in Europe, we also needed to set up a retail distribution channel, given that this medicine is dispensed in community pharmacies as well as hospitals.

Within a matter of months and in spite of the constraints imposed by COVID-19 restrictions, the team mobilized internal and external expertise to build a supply chain that enabled our medicine to be available promptly after being prescribed. This was a huge cross-functional effort requiring careful planning, communication and flawless execution. Knowing a patient can access a medicine that will transform how they live with a disease is why we do what we do.

The supply chain team at Jazz has a clear, unambiguous focus on ensuring that our medicines reach our patients. We quickly deal with tactical challenges such as manufacturing issues or shipping delays and ensure that we implement longer-term supply continuity plans, for example, investing in supply capacity and capabilities. COVID-19 has accelerated our use of remote collaboration tools internally and externally to maximize product availability. For example, instead of physically overseeing supplier facilities as before, with the collaboration of our partners we have increased the use of remote camera technologies and other monitoring tools.

So, what’s the bottom line? Although the past year brought many challenges to the pharmaceutical industry, it also highlighted the power of collaboration to successfully deliver meaningful treatments to people who need them. A newfound appreciation has grown around the care and effort companies exercise in ensuring that medicines are manufactured and delivered safely to patients. At Jazz, the supply of our medicines is taken very seriously, and we invest in people, systems and processes to achieve supply continuity. As new treatments are launched, we build on our learnings to ensure that our supply chains continue to be robust, effective and compliant so patients can receive their treatments on time.