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Flexible supply chain solutions for advanced therapies

Illustration of DNA strand and cells

The composition of clinical trial pipelines is changing quickly as the rise of advanced therapies adds another layer to the multi-decade shift from small molecules to biologics.

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This change is fueling once unimaginable advances in the treatment of cancers, rare diseases and other conditions, but it is also placing strains on infrastructure and processes originally created to handle robust small molecules.

In this new environment, clinical drug distribution is a key enabler of success.

The significance of distribution has risen in line with the complexity of therapeutics and clinical trial designs.

Whereas once clinical supply chains took robust small molecules to centers in North America and West Europe, today they ferry expensive, highly sensitive biologics to sites around the world.

Antibodies and other temperature-sensitive biologics account for almost two-fifths of the biopharma industry pipeline, up from around one-fifth 20 years ago.

A fast-growing and vitally important part of the pipeline is made up of gene, cell and other advanced therapies that are even more sensitive and challenging to ship than antibodies.

There are reasons to think the growth will continue.

"In this new environment, clinical drug distribution is a key enabler of success."

Tailoring supply chains

Growth in Phase I trials has outstripped other stages of human testing, meaning the sector has a big pool of programs to move deeper into clinical development in the coming years.

And money has flooded into the industry to fund these programs.

The ongoing rise of advanced therapies is forcing the industry to rethink clinical drug distribution. In general, advanced therapies are more sensitive to environmental factors and face a tougher, more time-pressured set of logistical challenges than other modalities.

For example, production of autologous cell therapies such as anti-cancer CAR-T treatments entails taking cells from a patient, shipping them to a remote facility for processing and finally returning them to the trial site for administration back into the same patient.

The faster this process happens, the sooner the patient begins receiving the potentially life-saving treatment.

This makes supply chain mistakes potentially devastating for patients and highly costly for clinical trial sponsors.

"The faster the process happens, the sooner the patient receives potentially life-saving treatment."

Analysts estimate that manufacturing of approved CAR-T treatments can cost $200,000 per dose.

High-stake shipments

The fate of millions of patients and billions of dollars therefore rests on the biopharma industry’s ability to master the complex supply chains that underpin the development of advanced therapies.

The nascent nature of advanced therapeutics and the challenges they pose mean few supply chain service providers have a track record of managing these logistically complex clinical trials.

Marken: Supply Chain Solutions for Cell & Gene Therapies

 Marken is one of the companies with such a track record. In one example, Marken procured ready-to-use cryogenic shippers to support a Phase 2 trial that needed to transport a drug to investigator sites at -80º C.

As cryogenic shipper rental companies are regional and generally do not work 24/7, Marken sourced suitable facilities around the globe and managed the supply chain from its Global Control Center.

Flexibility and control​

This case study is illustrative of recent changes to development pipelines and the pressures they have placed on clinical drug distribution.

These trends will continue to advance in the years to come, making it even more important for vendors to provide transparent, closely-controlled global supply chains.

"Between Marken and UPS, there are seemingly endless supply chain resources."

Through its parent company UPS, Marken has access to an expansive airline network that can carry shipments.

This enables Marken to manage the entire process via a hybrid solution. Shipments are collected by Marken, put on flights run by UPS and then carried to their final destination by Marken.

Hybrid supply chains are advancing the move toward personalized logistics.

Between Marken and UPS, there is a near endless number of possible combinations of supply chain resources, making it practical to tailor the solution to the unique needs of each clinical trial, the patients enrolled and the protocol.

This flexibility means that as the ongoing evolution of clinical-phase pipelines forces drug distribution to adapt, Marken will have the toolkit to create new supply chain solutions tailored to the changing needs of the industry.

This article first appeared on Outsourcing-Pharma.com and was republished with permission.

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