Debra Ainge : iEthico Is Developing an AI Powered Digital Platform To Mitigate the Increasing Problem of Global Drug Shortages

October 8, 2022

iEthico is developing an AI powered digital platform to mitigate the increasing problem of global drug shortages to ensure optimal sourcing and distribution of existing supplies in a timely and logistically efficient manner.

The final product will not only ensure medicines supply in times of need but will ultimately address inequality in access to medicines and reduce carbon footprint of pharmaceutical distribution and waste by improved efficiency.

Our ambition is to change the way pharmacists find and access the medicines they need, when they need them.

We provide access to a wider network off approved suppliers, intelligent workflows that eliminate repeated workload and real time drug shortage information, not only benefiting pharmacists but also wholesalers and suppliers of medicinal products.

Our solution has been developed with industry leading software and regulatory standards, creating a safe and trusted environment for all parties to operate.

Tell us about yourself?

I am originally a scientist, I spent 15 years working in R&D at Astrazeneca developing new medicines for diseases such as COPD, asthma, schizophrenia and cancer.

I then moved to a small start-up company called Clinigen where I set-up and developed the medicine access business.

Medicine access, also referred to as early access, or compassionate use is a treatment option that allows the use medicines in clinical development, or medicines approved in another country that can be made available to patients who have a disease with no satisfactory authorised therapies and who cannot enter clinical trials.

It was a revelation to me that even when a medicine had been proved to be safe and efficacious it could fail at the final hurdle and not be accessed by patients who need it.

This doesn’t just apply to new innovative treatments, older generic medicines can also be a challenge for pharmacists to source, and lead to sub optimal treatment, delays or interruptions in patient treatment when there is a shortage or no commercial source.

My final role was in a Parexel Informatics, who specialised in technology enabled services in the clinical trials sector.

It was whilst I was there that I attended a Gartner conference in Barcelona. It was amazing to see the breath of application of technology across many different sectors, and how far behind pharma is compared to other sectors.

This got me thinking that there had to be ways of applying technology to medicines access and drug shortages to try to understand, mitigate and solve the problems that healthcare professionals and patients face every day.

It didn’t think much more about it until I connected with Renee Kalia, a former colleague, who was looking into the data side of medicine shortages, and between us we co-founded iethico.

We are both passionate about providing access to medicines for patients in need and have our own stories of when we have moved heaven and earth to make that happen and thought this was a great opportunity to fix a long-standing problem in a new and unique way, making a difference to patients and healthcare professionals who care for them.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Given the challenges in the pharmaceutical supply chain that were exposed during COVID, it would have been great if we could have been part of solution and supported the response to the pandemic.

Equally the war in Ukraine has created its own problems with supply and although we were approached to support the sourcing and procurement of medicines to support Ukraine hospitals, at that stage we didn’t have the necessary licences and a finished product to be involved.

The only advice we would give ourselves would have been to start sooner!

What problem does your business solve?

Our business aims to address the challenges pharmacists and wholesalers face when dealing with Medicines shortages along with wider social and economic challenges they create such as the rise of illegal online pharmacies and increase in cost to the healthcare sector.

Medicine shortages are a recognised major health concern. They are on the rise globally, occurring daily and impacting everyone involved in patient care.

They result in millions of hours of wasted healthcare resources, increases in costs to pharmacies and frequent delays and interruptions in patient treatment.

Recent surveys reveal 95% of pharmacists consider shortages a problem, and 90% consider shortages have increased in the last 12 months. On average pharmacies spend at least 5h per week dealing with shortages.

In 2021, the European Commission reported ‘most shortages are localised, pointing towards inequitable distribution and access rather than global supply issues,’ and ‘proper understanding of shortages remains substantially challenged by inconsistent and limited reporting.’

What is the inspiration behind your business?

The inspiration for this idea came from previous experiences of talking to pharmacists who struggled, not only in accessing medicines but also dealing with medicine shortages.

There were numerous cases where patients would actively search out their own prescriptions or those belonging loved ones because no one seemed able to help them.

Equally, suppliers were trying to find medicine demand across a network of pharmacists, keep expired stock to a minimum and challenged with second guessing price and lead times through the pressure of increasing competition.

The stories from these cases across healthcare professionals, patients and wholesalers highlighted a significant disconnect.

By linking pharmacists with wholesalers through a single platform, iethico reduces time spent on sourcing medicines and creates a competitive marketplace that addresses drug supply chain deficiencies, saving pharmacies money.

The AI-powered solution will be able to give clear indications of medicine shortages and have the capability to predict future supply chain challenges – something which is not currently possible.

What is your magic sauce?

iEthico’s mission is to ensure patients get access to the medication they need, regardless of limitations created by the lack of availability of medicines in their country.

Our solution creates a digital operating system that sits above the fragmented network of pharmacists and suppliers, using technology to remove complexity, making it easier for the underlying market to operate.

The international reporting and supply platform will improve access to information on shortages and provide an alternative regulated route for sourcing medicines, overcoming the key challenges of inequitable distribution and inconsistent and limited reporting.

This will dramatically improve the workload of pharmacists, increase access to medicines, drive down costs and reduce the carbon footprint of pharmaceutical distribution and waste through improved efficiency.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Our vision is to address the global medicine shortages crisis impacting healthcare professionals, payers, and patients worldwide by delivering a first-in-class artificial intelligence (AI) powered digital solution that connects demand with supply and uses data to mitigate the impact of shortages.

This year we joined the East Midlands Digital Health Accelerator with the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), who recognised that the iethico concept aligns with the NHS goal for healthcare professionals to utilise innovations.

Whilst our focus in the early stage has been the UK, as soon as we complete the market testing of the platform, full commercial rollout will commence across the EU and rest of the world.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Working for a startup is like being on the adventure of your life. The excitement, growth and drive are all there in spades and our journey has not been free of challenges.

From prioritising technical strategy decisions based on market needs, regulating the procurement platform and building a commercial strategy is just some of the challenges we faced.

We recognised however that a number of these are typical of a start-up and the teamwork and goal alignment is established very quickly.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Pharmacists and procurement professionals can register to the platform and request on-demand delivery for medicine across a global supplier network, saving time and costs.

Wholesalers and Suppliers can register to deliver medicines in their portfolio to the pharmacists that need them, which enables geographic expansion, reduces acquisition costs and reduces losses on expired stock. Both will have visibility on upcoming medicine shortages.

iEthico is open for registrations here: https://iethico.com/contact

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