National drug shortages, defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a period of time when the demand or projected demand for a drug within the United States exceeds the supply of the drug, remain a complex and multilayered issue in the U.S. health care delivery system. For the period 2011–14, FDA announced that there were 456 instances of drugs in shortage, a circumstance that can cause adverse outcomes for patients, including substitutions (alternate drugs) or modifications to treatment. In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that 6 out of 10 health care associations say the situation is static or worsening.
Drug shortages result in nearly $230 million in additional costs annually for hospitals because of the higher costs of substitute drugs. The majority of the shortages—more than 72 percent—were in the sterile injectable category, and the affected product categories or therapeutic classes ranged from anti-infective and anesthetic drugs to cardiovascular and oncology treatments.
The importance of preventing drug shortages, and the need to identify solutions, is evident from a July 2016 GAO report, which determined that multiple factors—including quality, manufacturing complexity, speed of regulatory reviews, decreased margins of certain drugs, and inventory-related issues—were associated with creating shortages.
A number of papers have examined drug shortages with a key focus on the quality-related root causes behind supply interruptions. For example, the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) conducted a survey of its membership and found that compliance, together with manufacturing and product quality issues, represented the single most important factor leading to drug shortages. And although other papers have explored the root causes of shortages outside of quality, this report explores the market dimensions and investments influencing supply chain and business continuity decisions, and their relationships to drug shortages.
The Pew Charitable Trusts and ISPE (Pew/ISPE) launched a research collaboration to identify the multidimensional set of drivers behind shortages of sterile injectable drugs in the U.S. and to find out whether the decisions companies made to reduce risks of future shortages were influenced by correlations between drug shortages and elements other than quality-focused factors. The collaboration included the exploration of elements related to market uncertainties and product margins; supply chain network design; demand forecasting; and relationships between manufacturers and key stakeholders, including purchasing organizations and regulators. The results are presented in this report.
The study examined the following factors:
This study was designed to identify insights into the contributing factors behind shortages and the suggested areas for further exploration. The study was not designed to produce a statistically significant sample, given that the main objective was to understand key trends and identify the directional focus for future research.
More than 50 executives from 10 companies that collectively manufacture a mix of branded, branded-generic, and generic products participated in the research. The findings result from discussions with those executives, driven by a set of questions developed by Pew and ISPE, and also from 29 drug shortage examples, cited in the report as “reference products,” that the participating companies provided during the discussions.
The terms “companies” and “participating companies” are used interchangeably throughout this report. Similarly, “shortages” and “drug shortages” are used interchangeably.
Refer to the appendices for details on the research methodology, participating companies and executives, interview questions, and reference products.*
Study results indicated that quality-related compliance issues are not the only factors driving the high number of shortages. The following are also key elements identified by these 10 companies:
The study results indicate that, in addition to improvements in product and manufacturing quality and current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) compliance, drug shortages could be reduced with improvements in internal-demand-forecasting abilities; overall supply chain maturity; and the relationships between a manufacturer, a provider, and regulators.