The FDA has not updated their PDMA resources page as of this morning, so it’s unclear what their formal strategy will be. Since I’m not qualified to opine on the FDA’s legal options, I’ll focus on a few business implications for manufacturers and wholesalers.
This injunction should serve as a channel strategy wake-up call to manufacturers. In my opinion, senior executives in commercial operations at pharmaceutical companies should push their trade relations teams to develop formal channel management strategies. Frankly, the PDMA’s conception of “authorized distributor of record” is somewhat simplistic relative to channel management practices in other industries. (More on this topic below.)
I also want to reinforce my belief that manufacturers should invest more resources into gaining visibility into the movement of their product from factory to patient. Despite the RFID hype, the U.S. is still many years from a functional track-and-trace infrastructure, which was defined by Dr. von Eschenbach as “from the assembly line to the dispenser” at the NACDS/HDMA RFID conference. (See The FDA on PDMA.)
The Secondary Market
Let’s not delude ourselves –secondary markets will always exist when there are opportunities to arbitrage price differences between identical products being sold at different prices in different markets. In Europe, this arbitrage occurs as products are diverted across national borders and is called parallel trade. (See London Calling: Fake Drugs Get Real.) In the U.S., arbitrage also occurs as products are diverted between different classes of trade. Check out this graphical depiction of gateways into the U.S. supply chain.
While diverted or resold products are not necessarily counterfeits, all counterfeits enter via diversion in the secondary market. As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources noted in November 2005: “The FDA confirmed with Subcommittee staff that drug diversion was the entry point for every case investigated by that agency involving counterfeit drugs going into legitimate pharmacies.” Thus, any wholesaler operating in the secondary market should reasonably expect a higher level of scrutiny over their activities.
I am impressed by this legal victory, especially given my earlier skepticism. However, secondary wholesalers should recognize that manufacturers in many industries can and do legitimately limit the number of intermediaries that are authorized to sell its products. For example, Apple only allows iPods to be sold through authorized resellers.
The degree of distribution selectivity is a strategic channel design issue for a manufacturer, ranging from a single distributor (exclusivity) to an unrestricted number of distributors within a given market (intensive distribution). There is a large body of academic research on distribution channel selectivity in economics, law, and marketing supporting these channel strategies. Fans of academic jargon may enjoy reading an academic research paper on the topic that I published almost 10 years ago (available here), although the data did not include the pharmaceutical industry.
Given my comments about diversion above, secondary wholesalers must be willing to provide complete transparency to manufacturers about their business practices and product sources. Legitimate secondary wholesalers must be willing to clearly and unequivocally demonstrate how they differ from the unsavory wholesalers that traffic in potentially counterfeit product.
Big 3 Wholesalers
I believe that the introduction of Inventory Management Agreements (IMAs) and Fee-for-Service agreements now limit product leakage into the grey market, closing a significant entry point for counterfeiters. Drug makers literally pay for greater product security by purchasing data from wholesalers to monitor orders, inventories, and product movement in real-time.
In addition, wholesalers such as AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC) and Cardinal Health Inc (CAH) publicly renounced secondary market sourcing, the HDMA tightened its membership requirements, and major pharmacy chains such as CVS committed to secure sourcing. My conversations with executives at the big 3 wholesalers – McKesson Corp (MCK), Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen – have convinced me that these companies are genuinely committed to a secure supply chain.
Two more things
- Before we let the rhetoric about “extinction of small distributors” get out of hand, I must ask: How come we have not heard about secondary wholesalers going out of business in Florida after the July 1 implementation of state-level pedigree? Just wondering…
- I must be touching a nerve on this topic because a few individuals prefer to insult me via private emails. One of these fellows (“D.K.”) is too cowardly to disclose his affiliation in this matter. I have posted my opinions for all to see. Perhaps he will open himself up to the same scrutiny by posting a (non-anonymous) comment on this blog.