Janssen: How to improve clinical supply chain efficiencies from the ground up

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How are you utilizing data to drive supply-chain efficiencies and generate the process insights?

We are driving efficiencies by comparing:

  • Actual inventory to targets 
  • Actual enrolment to forecast
  • Shipment frequency to sites
  • Country start actuals to forecast


What process improvement do these four areas generate?

Cost savings are definitely the main advantage, as we don’t have a clear idea of the cost of the drugs in development; all we can do is show a savings in units. The part that really shows through is when we reduce or come up with more efficient numbers. We have a lot of out-of-pocket expense, because we purchase commercial drugs for clinical trials and they tend to be very expensive.

As a matter of fact, when the senior directors are approving an expensive purchase, they often go to our forecasting system to see how the number was derived and what the current number is. If it’s a very large number, they might ask me for a second opinion and say: Do you think this is the right purchase at this time? Can we reduce the number or can we delay the purchase?

The other cost reduction component is a reduction in packaging labour. So, if you produce fewer kits, then you’re going to spend less time packaging drugs. If we’re running a trial that doesn’t have any commercial drug, we can certainly make the best use of our packaging capacity, especially externally, where that is out-of-pocket.


If you were putting yourself in the mindset of a smaller company looking to generate the process efficiencies that Janssen has, where would you start looking at your process? Where would you focus your time and investment?

My number-one priority in that scenario would be sharing systems that are sharing data across different platforms. Every system that is developed should produce data and consume data but some systems are better than others at different phases of the supply chain. So you should enable a system to produce the data that you need to share across different interfaces.

But it’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to have one system that does everything from beginning to end. As you may have already invested in a system and that is too difficult to change system, like SAP. A lot of companies have SAP but it’s not necessarily the best forecasting tool. If we were able to have SAP produce data and consume data, then that allows us to exchange data across different interfaces, which gives us better end-to-end visibility.

I don’t think we’ll ever be where we want to be, because even as we get gains and new advances we will always want more. So if we were a small company just starting out I would make sure that the system was very, flexible in terms of delivering data and consuming data as data is the next space for how to actually optimize your clinical-trial supply process.


How do you balance product cost and availability while trying to speed up your time to market?

In the past 18 months we have implemented a just-in time strategy that positions bright stock at a depot for the final labeling step. This bright stock can be used across multiple trials in any country. This eliminates the need for multi-lingual booklets.


Is patient-centricity at the core of all of the decisions regarding clinical-trial supply investment and your process optimization? Or would you say it’s something that’s important but sits more around the periphery?

This is more of a clinical operations topic than supply chain. At J&J patient participation and patient interaction is where we are heading. We can achieve this by using mobile phones because even in developing countries, one of the first pieces of electronics that they have is a cell phone

Using cell phones allow us to remind them about appointments, taking their medication and getting them more involved in the process by polling them on how they’re feeling. This would benefit in a lot of different areas such as patient compliance. It is an important topic because if you don’t have good patient compliance, then your clinical trial data is called into question. Giving them reminders and interacting with them electronically will make them more inclined to comply with the requirements of the trial in taking their medication.

If we need to change the expiration date of the medication that they have, remind them to keep it in a cool place or to keep it out of the sun, E-labelling can help us achieve this. We spend a lot of money storing our drug in a controlled environment, at hospitals and clinics, but once the patient takes it home we can help educate them on how best to store the medication. Risk would be reduced if an hour after their visit; they get a text message saying, did you remember to put your drug in the refrigerator.

More over from a marketing standpoint, we want to be the company of choice for ill patients looking for a clinical trial. We realize that there are choices out there and a lot of companies are studying the same therapeutic areas, so we want clinical investigators to see that we have great patient-centricity and that makes their job easier.