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Fresh thinking to fix global medicine shortages

iEthico wants to make new connections to help meds get to patients

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Hello there,

Today is one of those times when we profile a startup with co-founders who seem to have ideal backgrounds to solve the problem they’re tackling.

Can iethico solve the deeply tricky problem of medicine shortages around the world? They’re gearing up to try, while hopefully making your friendly local pharmacist’s life a whole lot easier.

– Martin

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iethico brings fresh thinking to the global problem of medicine shortages

Medicine shortages are a growing problem around the world due to a mixture of supply chain challenges, increased demand, and regulatory changes.

“Pharmacists are dealing with medicine shortages every day,” says Debra Ainge, CEO and co-founder of iethico, a startup focused on improving medicine supply. 

“When they can't access their medicine through the normal supply chain, they have to resort to telephone and email to try to track down the product. There are thousands of wholesalers and many thousands of pharmacies, and hundreds and hundreds of manufacturers. 

“So it's actually quite difficult for them to find the product. Even though the product may exist, in reality they can't access it.”

Ainge paints a picture backed up by a recent Pharmaceutical Journal survey, in which two-thirds of community pharmacists said shortages had put patients at risk in the previous six months.

Patients need medicine, pharmacists’ time is not most effectively spent hunting down medicine, and pharmaceutical companies want to sell medicine, so the situation doesn’t work out well for anyone.

In response, iethico has built a digital platform to connect up the medicine supply chain and better link supply with demand.

The platform allows pharmacists to file a request for a specific medicine. The request goes out to iethico’s network of licensed suppliers, targeting only those with the right licence for that medicine.

Suppliers can then quote a price and lead time for delivery. This can even include international suppliers in some cases.

“Our MHRA licence status allows us to link together everybody in the supply chain,” says Ainge.

The story so far

Ainge began her career in academia, obtaining a PhD in Organic Chemistry, which led her into drug development at AstraZeneca before moving to pharmaceutical supply chain company Clinigen, where she became COO. 

After a stint as COO at Parexel, a company in the clinical trials space, she co-founded iethico with another Clinigen allum, Renee Kalia.

“Renee came to me with an idea about using technology to address medicine shortages. The observation being that they really hadn't improved over the 10 or 15 years we'd been involved in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and that we should be able to use technology to fix it,” says Ainge.

“We came up with the first product, which is the procurement platform, and the idea for the data platform that sits behind it, and how we could use that going forward.”

Coventry-based iethico launched its platform in beta back in April this year, focused on serving UK pharmacists at first, via an international network of manufacturers and suppliers.

Ainge and Kalia are joined in the startup’s core team by CTO Peter Shone, (previously a global VP at Rolls-Royce) and Chief Business Officer Claudio Zurzica. iethico also counts Thorrun Govind, a board member at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, as an adviser.

What’s next

As an early-stage startup with a beta product, it may come as no surprise that while the product is feature-rich for its customers, the back-end requires some manual processes on the back-end at present. The plan is to roll out the full version of the product across the UK in the coming months. 

“We've been taking feedback from the beta test, which has been fantastic, and building that into our commercial product. We plan to finish the first version of the commercial product and launch it at the end of this year,” says Ainge.

Beyond this, iethico is building a data product to help make sense of the medicine shortage problem.

“Although governments report medicine shortages, really they just report the very top of the iceberg, the really big, national problems. There's a huge amount that is not recorded and not really seen,” say Ainge.

“We don't intend to stop the technology development. We've got such a huge list of things that we can do. Every time we speak to a pharmacist, we have a new idea of functionality that we can build into the product.

“We see a long roadmap ahead of us from a technology point of view, but we’ve put the foundations in to grow.”

Go deeper on iethico

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