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Supply Chain Challenges and Drug Supply: What Can We Do About it?

Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many facets of life, such as healthcare, the economy, and entertainment. Fortunately, most of these areas are improving, but we are still dealing with some economic side effects—for one, we are still largely grappling with challenges with our global supply chain and product availability.


You may have dealt with the impacts of supply chain issues at some point over the past 18 months as we navigated toilet paper and paper towel shortages, medical supply shortages, clothing inavailability, building materials shortages and sky-high prices for lumber and steel. Most recently we have been facing challenges with the supply of computer chips which have wrecked havoc on the car and electronics industries.


There are a number of reasons these issues are occurring: increased demand for each type of product as we have seen with toilet paper, medical goods, and lumber, which suppliers and manufacturers did not expect; or global supply chain blockages like we’ve seen in the Suez Canal this past spring, which unexpectedly lengthened delivery times and led to short-term shortages. Regardless of cause, these challenges have several compounding economic implications, which can include increases in the price of goods and services across the board—especially as multiple industries are hit.


Fortunately, these issues have not been as severe in the pharmaceutical industry in comparison to other industries. However, we have faced drug shortages at several points of the pandemic, especially for drugs that were important for reducing the severity of COVID-19. And the FDA has reported continued medical device shortages even through spring of 2021.


While future shortages for drugs are hopefully not very likely, we have seen that our supply of goods, services, and even drugs are a careful and fragile balance that can quickly become broken by sudden changes in demand and unexpected global issues (e.g. shipping blockages, shortage of one supply, pandemics, etc.). Supply shortages of drugs in particular could be especially problematic, particularly for severe and chronic health conditions such as asthma, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, blood pressure, clotting disorders, COPD, depression, and more. Inability to get medication for even a short amount of time could worsen conditions irreversibly or undo personally valuable progress for patients. Even if drugs happen to be available, increases in prices due to shortages could make drugs unaffordable to patients, leading to similar results.


The weakness with most of these medication regimens is that they require daily dosing, and monthly or bimonthly refills. This means that patients need to get more medication frequently, limiting their options in the face of shortages. Fortunately, for many of these chronic conditions that require long-term medication, biodegradable implants can be some part of the solution. Such implants allow for patients to get medication dosing for monthly to yearly intervals (or sometimes even longer). These implants release medication on their own and they fully resorb, eliminating the need for removal at the end of their lifetime. Longer-term, biodegradable implants offer patients peace of mind, as they do not need to worry about monthly refills, and can make it through short term supply issues without affecting their access to medication and thus maintain their quality of life.