We Owe it to Patients to Provide a Reliable Supply of Medicines

6/4/13

Too often in recent years, medicines for life-threatening conditions have been in short supply. It is unnecessary and avoidable for patients, their families, and health care professionals to experience and worry about medicine availability on top of the anxiety caused by their medical conditions.

A reliable supply of high-quality medications is something all drug makers strive for and regulatory authorities build stringent requirements to help ensure. Even so, the supply of medicines has been affected by manufacturing-related problems including delays, product quality issues, recalls, and raw material shortages. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) explored the issues driving drug shortages and also identified “the inability of the market to observe and reward quality” as a key problem. Though drug shortages may be caused by unanticipated events and natural disasters, the great majority of issues can be attributed to inadequate quality management, including a lack of sustained investment. At a time when we have access to improved and more efficient technology, we owe it to patients, and to the health-care system, to invest in the best manufacturing practices to help eliminate the potential for unexpected supply shortfalls of critical drugs.

In my seven years at Amgen and over my entire 30 year career in the pharmaceutical industry, it has been my passion and duty to advance quality assurance and improvement initiatives with the goal of helping to ensure a reliable supply of high-quality medicines. I have watched and learned from manufacturing challenges that have arisen in our industry and I’m proud to say that despite facing a few challenges of our own, for nearly 30 years, Amgen has been able to avoid shortages of our biologic therapies, as defined by the FDA.

Recently, the FDA Drug Shortages Task Force asked for input from stakeholders on how we can ensure that patients receive the medicines they need. Here are some of my thoughts on what industry can do.

1. Learn from other industries with effective quality management systems

Consequences of poor quality can be significant. To enable survival in challenging financial times, reduce defects in their products, and to gain a competitive advantage, leading companies in the semi-conductor, consumer electronics, and automotive industries have effectively implemented simple, robust and sustainable quality systems. The rationale for quality systems in these cases are applicable to our industry, too, but beyond them, quality is crucially needed to ensure regulatory compliance and provide the patients we serve with high quality medicines. This is best achieved by creating a culture of quality that promotes its benefits, works cross-functionally, drives operational excellence, and implements new techniques and technologies. We need to continue get it right the first time, building quality processes from the start.

2. Invest in risk mitigation strategies

At Amgen, we have invested considerably in quality processes and pioneering technologies to help ensure the continuous supply of our quality biologic therapies. Between 2005 and 2016, we project this investment will reach approximately $1.5 billion. Our strategy … Next Page »

Martin Van Trieste is the Senior Vice President of Quality at Amgen, a company that strives to reliably deliver high-quality medicines that matter to patients. To coincide with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2013 annual meeting, Amgen has introduced an educational program featuring a virtual tour of its own manufacturing processes, reflecting its efforts to reliably deliver critical medicines. Learn more by visiting www.biotechnologybyamgen.com Follow @

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