Researchers Receive $100K NSF RAPID Grant for Drug Supply Chain Shortages

Jacqueline Griffin, David Kaeli, Ozlem Ergun, Stacy Marsella & Casper Harteveld

Several Northeastern professors and faculty were recently awarded a $100K NSF RAPID grant for “Rapid Monitoring and Assessment of Critical Pharmaceutical Supply Chains.” Principal investigator, MIE Associate Professor Jacqueline Griffin, explained that the project’s goal is to build a strong foundation of knowledge and research pertaining to drug shortages.

Using a data-driven approach, the researchers want to improve models of human decision making by stakeholders throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain.

ECE Professor David Kaeli, MIE Professor Ozlem Ergun, and affiliate faculty Stacy Marsella and Casper Harteveld are co-investigators on the grant.

Partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital and software company OrbitalRx, the researchers are working to actively understand drug shortage management, particularly in response to COVID-19.

“We’re collecting data and information about drug shortage management through our partnerships with Mass General and OrbitalRx, a pharmaceutical management software platform,” Griffin said. “We’re trying to analyze data and information that weren’t previously captured and stored. Later, we want to analyze the data to be able to provide insights on drug shortage management in real-time. We want to get a broader understanding of the challenges [experienced by members of the pharmaceutical supply chain] and how we can use data-driven methodologies to support the challenges.”

Identifying gaps in the flow of information

The drug shortage issue in the U.S. is not a new one, Griffin explained, and is something that is continually faced both in the U.S. and internationally. But the COVID-19 pandemic has once again pushed the issue into the spotlight.

The research team will collect data “that documents the decision-making processes and workflows associated with allocating scarce therapeutics resources,” according to the award abstract.

Griffin added that the NSF RAPID grant will allow her team to continue to improve their models of the pharmaceutical supply chains.

“With RAPID, we’re collecting more data to better understand decision making at the hospital or pharmacy level,” Griffin said. “What data is available? How do they go about making decisions? That’s only one part, but that’s our first step to better understand the decision makers’ perspectives.”

The research team’s interdisciplinary approach will create mathematical models of supply chain. The realistic models will show how people make decisions at different points in the supply chain.

Griffin explained. “We hypothesize that the cumulative effects of the responses of individual supply chain actors, spread throughout the system, can substantially alter the ability of the entire system to mitigate and respond to the [drug] shortages.”

The problem is complex and will require creative solutions, she said. The long-term goal is to help ensure positive patient outcomes. When patients need a particular drug, they should be able to go into any hospital or pharmacy and have their first choice available at the time when they go in.

 Getting to that point will require changes in the supply chain, she added. Through mathematical modeling, seeing how people make decisions, and then how those decisions drive the dynamic behavior of supply chain can inform what changes need to be made.

 “Better patient outcomes is our ultimate goal,” Griffin concluded. “If we can make it so that drug shortages are less frequent, then it means that the right drugs are there for the patients at the right time.”


Abstract Source: NSF

Over the past decade, the U.S. has persistently experienced significant therapeutic drug shortages, jeopardizing patient care and diminishing economic prosperity due to increased healthcare costs. The current COVID-19 epidemic threatens to overwhelm hospital supplies of medicines and therapeutics in large urban centers as part of the first wave of infections across the country. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that effective medicines to treat COVID-19 disease are currently under development or in testing phases, resulting in very limited supplies. This Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant will collect useful, time-sensitive data related to operations of hospital pharmacies as they dispense these critical therapeutics during the pandemic. The analysis of these data will provide insight into the pharmaceutical supply networks with the goal of breaking the cycle of repeated and recurrent shortages, as pointed out in the FDA’s Drug Shortage Task Force’s report in 2019.

The PIs will collect quantitative and qualitative information on the inventories and distribution of available and emerging therapeutics to document the allocation of scarce medicines to hospital patients in a large urban hospital system. Quantitative data on demand and supply (physicians’ orders, current and forecast inventory levels, available suppliers, prices, etc.) will be collected through a collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and OrbitalRx, an online pharmaceutical exchange platform. In addition, qualitative information will be collected from pharmacists’ notes and interviews with pharmacy personnel that documents the decision-making processes and workflows associated with allocating scarce therapeutics resources to critically ill patients suffering from COVID-19. The research is expected to help identify gaps in information flows and decision-support models that are most critical for the management of drug shortages under extreme circumstances.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Related Faculty: Jacqueline Griffin, David Kaeli, Casper Harteveld, Ozlem Ergun

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering