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How to mitigate the potential challenges of the specialty pharmaceutical supply chain

It's apparent that specialty drugs are in higher demand than ever. Just think about how often you hear ads for any number of them, advising listeners to "Ask your doctor if [insert name of drug on commercial] is right for you."

The demand is only going to increase, as the estimation that 75% of the roughly 7,000 prescription drugs in development are specialty medications. In 2022, the FDA is likely to approve upward of 600 medications. More than 60% of those are specialty medications.1

Specialty pharmaceuticals are often classified as high cost, high complexity and/or high touch, says Tatiana Bahou, Rx large accounts manager at McKesson Medical-Surgical. Although most are injectable or infusible biologics, some are oral medications. "Specialty drugs require special handling, special administration and, typically, they have to be monitored by a physician," Bahou says.

When managing the pharmaceutical supply chain, specialty physicians may run across several obstacles when it comes to specialty pharmaceuticals. They're sometimes extremely expensive, difficult to access and take up a large amount of storage space.

Here's a look at the potential obstacles and how physicians can help mitigate them.

Specialty pharmaceuticals are expensive

Specialty drugs are notoriously costly and can range anywhere from $10,000 to over $7,000,000 per patient annually.2

Physicians can consider joining a GPO as one way to help manage costs. GPOs "negotiate the pricing on behalf of its members," explains Bahou, offering health systems ways to access better pricing and sometimes rebates, depending upon on the drug.

McKesson has relationships with most group purchasing organizations (GPOs) and also offers its own specialty drug GPO, Onmark GPO. "McKesson offers many of these specialty drugs at GPO pricing to help physicians and patients save even more."

Another way to combat high prices is to review different therapeutic options, like biosimilars. Biosimilars are highly similar to FDA-approved biologics with possible minor differences in the inactive ingredients.4 They're not considered the same as generic equivalents, but they go through a thorough review process, just like biologics do.

Biosimilars are creating competition in the biologics market, reducing costs and improving patient access.4 As of February 2022, the FDA has approved 34 biosimilars.5 Around 21 of these are on the market, 4 with another 100 in development.6 This sector is exploding, with the global market for it forecasted to reach $190.9 billion by 2025.7

"As more biosimilars are entering the market, they give physicians the ability to expand treatment options, offer cost savings, and the drugs go through the FDA approval process for safety much like the biologics (originators)," Bahou says.

Want to learn more about biosimilars? Check out our article, What are biosimilars? How biosimilars differ from biologics in cost & benefits.

Specialty pharmaceuticals may prove difficult to access

Not only do specialty drugs require prior authorization from insurance companies, but "we've seen physicians have issues with gaining access to these drugs," says Bahou.

McKesson helps physicians get set up with their health system's GPO "so that they don't have issues accessing the drugs at a competitive price and having the products delivered as soon as the drugs are needed," Bahou explains. In addition, McKesson has a team of experts that are focused on expanding access for physicians that have patients needing these life-saving drugs.

Specialty pharmaceuticals often require special handling & storage

Many specialty drugs need cold storage, which in turn requires refrigerator space.

"McKesson ships specialty pharmaceuticals in containers that comply with the manufacturer's specifications, and can ship overnight or with next day delivery so that the medications get there as fast as possible," says Bahou. "Physicians don't have to stock up and store specialty items. Instead, they can feel confident that they'll get their deliveries when needed."

Simplify your specialty pharmaceutical distribution & purchasing

Ordering specialty pharmaceuticals through one supply chain expert like McKesson can help you meet the increasing demand for these drugs while saving you and your customers money. McKesson offers a web-based inventory management system called McKesson SupplyManagerSM, which helps automate your orders, minimize product loss and maximize your efficiency. McKesson also offers EDI for those customers that prefer to order via EDI.

As one of the biggest pharmaceutical distributors in the United States, McKesson provides the pharmaceutical supply chain with more than one-third of the nation's pharmaceuticals.

"McKesson provides a full portfolio of specialty pharmaceuticals for over 100 specialty types," says Bahou. "We have 34 distribution centers throughout the U.S. and deliver to over 270,000 physicians daily. We also foster relationships with manufacturers and provide best-in-class delivery to ensure the products are delivered on time."

As a specialty physician, managing specialty pharmaceuticals shouldn't take up space on your task list. Instead, look for a solution that integrates with your existing processes, gives you access to a wide portfolio of specialty drugs, reduces your storage needs and meets all quality and regulatory requirements.


1: https://www.biopharmadive.com/press-release/20210721-top-tech-predictions-for-the-future-of-speciality-pharmacy/
2: https://www.amcp.org/about/managed-care-pharmacy-101/concepts-managed-care-pharmacy/specialty-pharmaceuticals
3: https://press.aarp.org/2021-9-28-Average-Specialty-Drug-Price-Reached-84,442-2020-Rising-Three-Times-Faster-Prices-Other-Goods-Services
4: https://www.phrma.org/policy-issues/research-and-development-policy-framework/biologics-biosimilars
5: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/biosimilars/biosimilar-product-information
6: https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/fda-track-agency-wide-program-performance/fda-track-center-drug-evaluation-research-pre-approval-safety-review-biosimilars-dashboard
7: https://www.marketwatch.com/press-release/specialty-generic-drugs-market-size-2021-major-industry-drivers-current-trends-market-segmentation-latest-developments-business-growth-statistics-size-with-regional-analysis-2030-2022-02-14

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