IMS advises 'early warning system' on drug shortages

The drug-shortage problem is concentrated in one way, and widespread in another. More than 80% of the scarce meds are generics, and more than 80% are injectables. The shortages are spread across a large number of suppliers, with most of the scarce meds made by only one or two manufacturers.

That's the assessment of IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, which has turned its magnifying glass onto the drug-shortage problem. IMS Institute called the problem "highly concentrated," product-wise; the drugs represent just a small part of the overall pharma market. But as anyone who's been following the shortages knows, those scarce products include critical meds, including drugs that treat cancer, pain, and heart disease. In fact, 16% of the drugs with supply problems are oncology meds.

More than 100 companies supply the 168 products on the shortages list, IMS points out, with half of the scarce products having only one or two suppliers. "This leaves a growing number of products open to possible production disruptions that cannot be offset rapidly by other manufacturers," the research firm found.

For some of the scarce products, the key problem isn't overall supply, but volatility in month-to-month availability. But for 75 drugs, overall supply volume has "fallen substantially," with supplies declining more than 20% in recent months.

The answer? IMS Institute recommends that the FDA or the industry set up some kind of early-warning system to improve monitoring of the drug supply. "This system should include a volatility index, risk identification, demand forecasting and predictive modeling," IMS said in a  statement.

- read the IMS statement

- get the full report from IMS Institute