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Individually Tailored Medicine – One Size Does Not Fit All!

“Medicine sometimes snatches away health, sometimes gives it”

– Ovid, Tristia, Book II

In Tristia the Roman poet Ovid noted a healthcare challenge that is as true in our age as it was in his – medicine can affect different people differently. While they lack the eloquence and poetry of Ovid, every pharmaceutical advertisement says much the same thing, citing both the beneficial and adverse effects that a patient may experience. Most will benefit, some may experience no improvement, and a small percentage may experience an unintended side effect.

What is personalized medicine?

Today we are seeing innovative new therapies brought to market that deliver maximum benefit with minimal detriment for patients with specific characteristics. For example, over 20 new FDA approved cancer medications are already on the market, coupled with tests that identify specific biomarkers within patients. And oncologists have begun treating some cancers with medicines derived from cells taken directly from patients. This approach to healthcare, often referred to as individual or personalized medicine, uses clinical understanding of patients’ unique genetic make-up to tailor an optimal course of treatment.

This ability to finely tailor medicine to specific patient characteristics comes from the advent of new sciences such as genomics and proteomics. The first mapping of a human genome required more than $3B and a decade to accomplish. Today, your personal genome can be sequenced in less than a week for a few thousand dollars. It is projected that by the end of the year the cost and time required to sequence an individual genome will be comparable to that of a common MRI scan.

Because the cost is coming down, pharmacogenomics is becoming more and more frequently used. It tailors medicinal therapy to individual patients to improve outcomes and prevent adverse reactions. How great is that? This opens up a new continuum of personalized medicine, ranging from enhanced diagnostics for earlier intervention and improved decision-making (through better targeted and more finely tuned prescriptions) to the development of new drugs aligned to genetic biomarkers. This is exciting – innovative new technology is improving the lives of people!

How do you effectively and economically bring highly tailored products to market?

Medicine that is increasingly tailored to the patient will, in turn, require increasingly tailored supply chains. The ‘one size fits all’ approach that many companies take to their supply chains simply won’t work for bespoke medicine. New innovations in pharmacogenomics are changing the types of medicines patients are treated with, moving from an ‘off the shelf’ to a tailored approach to care. This requires corresponding innovation in how these new medicines reach the patient.

As a healthcare manufacturer’s portfolio moves from standardization to specialization to personalization, it’s important to ask some key questions to understand how their distribution channels will need to evolve, including:

  • How big is the patient universe that will need to be reached?
  • Where will the product be administered to the patient?
  • Who will provide treatment?

Healthcare supply chains are typically focused on taking mass shipments to hospitals and drug stores. This approach will continue to work well for standardized drugs with large patient universes. But it must increasingly be complemented with distribution channels optimized for smaller sized, more frequent, more widely dispersed shipments of medications tailored to individual patients, reaching them directly at their clinics, pharmacies, and even homes.

What Ovid wrote in Tristia about medicine is equally true of supply chains – some deliver value, some snatch it away. Finely tailored medicine will require equally finely tailored logistics.

Interested in learning more about specialized healthcare distribution? See how UPS can turn your supply chain into a competitive advantage.

Category: Healthcare, Medicine
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