How to Ensure Availability of Vaccines and Medicines?

29 January 2020

Professor Marianne Jahre at BI heads new research project on preventing medicine shortages.

medication and pills

Pharmaceutical supply chains are complex and global. Opaque and vulnerable networks connect a large number of manufacturers, buyers (in Norway this is the government) and end users (patients). When these supply chains break down it can lead to serious injury and death.

The networks are opaque both because they are large, and because the problems and priorities of the pharmaceutical industry are not necessarily the same as the problems and priorities of for example national governments. The research project MIA (Measures for Improved Availability of medicines and vaccines) addresses the fact that previous research has tended to look at pharmaceutical supply chains from the perspective of the manufacturers.

Jahre and a team of BI researchers, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, INSEAD Business School, Lancaster University and Rotterdam School of Management will take a system-wide approach to understanding the distribution of medicines and vaccines. The aim is to design supply chains that function as intended both under normal conditions and in crises.

In order to achieve this, MIA will include perspectives often not found in such studies, including those of patients and governments, a better understanding of competition between pharmaceutical firms and the impact of digitized supply chains. By building a comprehensive model of the networks, Jahre and her colleagues will be able to compare different methods of supply chain preparedness to see what works best under different circumstances.

Great Potential for Societal Impact

The Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) estimates that a shortage of antibiotics and insulin can lead to 2500 deaths and 8000 serious injuries, and cost Norway NOK 2.2 bn. To prevent this, supply chains must be able to withstand both lesser shocks (e.g. price hikes or temporary shortages) and catastrophes (e.g. production stops due to natural disasters or war, or increased demand due to epidemics). National governments must also be able to make decisions in the context of difficult trade-offs between things like availability, quality, delivery time and cost.

MIA will contribute to this by providing decision makers and others with better knowledge about how pharmaceutical supply chains work. The initial focus of Jahre and her colleagues is on Norway, the United Kingdom and Europe. In a later phase, they will share knowledge with other countries facing similar challenges, including developing countries.

The project is set to run for 4 years, and has been granted NOK 12 million by the Norwegian Research Council (RCN). In addition to Professor Jahre, Professors Kim van Oorschot and Dag Morten Dalen participate from BI.

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