Take your medicine: how research into supply chains will help you take care of yourself



Researchers are working with pharmaceutical companies to make improvements across the whole supply chain, from how a pill is made to the moment it is swallowed by the patient.


We are already able to ‘print’ tablet medicines on demand, and we are now exploring whether this might take place at more local sites, or at the local pharmacy or even in our own homes.
   - Jag Srai

“Like many people of my age, I have to take pills morning and night. I’m pretty good at taking them in the evenings, mainly because my wife makes me! But, left to my own devices in the mornings, I only remember to take them perhaps one day out of four,” says Dr Jag Srai.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if smartphones could remind patients, capture use and track activity, blood pressure, sugar level, and so on? And if, at the same time, their GP could see this data and call them in if there’s a problem?”

He explains that upwards of 30% of prescribed drugs are not taken by patients and, in the case of respiratory drugs, where application is more intricate, 70% are not taken as directed. The numbers vary depending on the type of condition being treated but they are disarmingly high across the board. This has consequences, and not only for the patient. The cost to the taxpayer of drugs that are not being used is considerable and reduces the pot of money available for patient care.

“In a world of scarce resources this in itself seems incredibly wasteful. But there are other reasons to be concerned,” adds Srai, who is Head of the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM)’s Centre for International Manufacturing. “Around 50% of patients taking antibiotics don’t complete the course. The consequences of this are potentially catastrophic as infections become increasingly resistant to drug treatment. And drugs contain active ingredients which, when disposed of inappropriately, end up as contaminants in our water supply.”

Tackling the thorny problem of patient compliance is just one aspect of the pharmaceutical industry that Srai and his team at the IfM are looking to revolutionise. They are working with other universities and major UK pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and GSK to make improvements across the whole supply chain, from how a pill is made to the moment it’s swallowed by the patient.

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Image:Keep taking the tablets
Credit: Kate Russell

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

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