J&J tops list of healthcare supply chains amid COVID-19 vaccine effort—and Pfizer wins kudos, too

J&J is currently in phase 3 testing for its COVID-19 shot and hopes to manufacture 1 billion doses in 2021. (J&J)(Raysonho/CC0)

With a range of COVID-19 vaccine candidates nearing the finish line, more eyes are turning to the strength of drugmakers' supply chains to meet global demand. One of the drugmakers leading the pack—Johnson & Johnson—can tout a supply chain that's the best in its field, a new report finds.

Partly because of strong backing from its peers, J&J topped Gartner's top 25 list of healthcare supply chains for the second year in a row, just as the drugmaker gears up to distribute up to 1 billion doses of its investigational COVID-19 vaccine, Ad26.COV2.S, in 2021. 

J&J held its top spot through a strong opinion ranking from other healthcare companies and from Gartner itself, which said the drugmaker excels in finding new ways to run its supply chain with "predictive maintenance" and cutting-edge digital technology, including "collaborative robots," self-driving vehicles and augmented reality.

"While other supply chains make notable strides in individual projects and initiatives, J&J has no peers in its commitment in finding novel supply chain solutions to the challenges of modern healthcare," Gartner wrote. 

J&J has also shone during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gartner wrote, through careful management of its high-demand products like Tylenol and by buffering key supplier relationships. 

Further down Gartner's list were fellow drugmakers Novo Nordisk (No. 11), Pfizer (No. 15), Roche (No. 21) and Biogen (No. 25). The list also highly ranked distributor McKesson (No.4), the U.S. government's partner in rolling out a range of COVID-19 vaccines to American patients. 

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J&J's supply-chain strength could go a long way toward helping the drugmaker meet its goal of making and distributing 1 billion doses per year of its investigational COVID-19 vaccine, which has resumed phase 3 testing after a brief hiccup due to a reported patient illness.

This week, Paul Lefebvre, VP of strategic initiatives and COVID-19 vaccine supply chain at J&J's Janssen unit, said J&J is well on its way to its 2021 goal thanks to a range of strategic manufacturing partnerships with contractors like New Jersey's Catalent, Maryland's Emergent BioSolutions and smaller providers like Michigan's Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing.

Building those relationships has helped J&J rapidly scale its production quotas and build a fast-moving supply chain network, Lefebvre said.

"The sheer speed of execution is challenging, and also the sheer volume that we need to produce. I think every manufacturer is facing the same challenges," he said. "We have aggressive timelines—we'd say, challenging timelines—but at the same time, they're realistic. We try to make sure that we can meet our commitments."

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