HHS’s ASPR applying pandemic lessons to better manage healthcare supply chain

Arlene Joyner, the deputy assistant secretary and director of the Office of Industrial Base Management and Supply Chain for the Administration for Strategic Pre...

Born out of the COVID pandemic, the Office of Industrial Base Management and Supply Chain in the Department of Health and Human Services has been at the forefront of almost every public health emergency over the last three years.

The Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), where the office lives, helped lead the response during the monkeypox outbreak.

The office helped orchestrate the delivery of more than 6.2 million pounds of baby formula from overseas.

ASPR kept a close eye on Uganda as Ebola resurfaced. It worked with health departments in states impacted by hurricanes and floods.

“The underlying theme of what we do from the development of vaccines and therapeutics to combating diseases like COVID, and also supporting the onshoring of drug manufacturing, is ensuring that America has access to the medical products that we need when we need them. So to better prepare for that those emergencies, especially ASPR created our office to provide oversight of the public health industrial base,” said Arlene Joyner, the deputy assistant secretary and director of the Office of Industrial Base Management and Supply Chain for the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, during the discussion Government Modernization Unleashed: Supply Chain. “These activities that we work on include end-to-end visibility of the medical supply and equipment devices, and pharmaceuticals. We provide a landscape of supply chain information, and this is really to inform some of our industrial base investments for both expansions and capacity preservation.”

Joyner said as part of that capacity preservation and expansion is working with the private sector to ensure their economic viability and investment in capacities to support future emergency public health events.

Supply chain control tower

All of these efforts from monkeypox to responding to hurricanes and floods is supported by data and information.

Joyner said ASPR learned during the pandemic that without understanding who, government and industry, has the vaccines or protective gear, and how the supply chain can accelerate to meet new and ongoing needs, the response will be significantly impacted.

“We want to use data to alert us of potential challenges that might be on the horizon. For instance for the COVID response, we used data from wastewater sampling that’s been critical and vital to assessing COVID spread throughout the country. We’ve used that data to leverage how we’re managing test kit allocations, as well as distribution for personal protective equipment, for example,” she said. “We also leverage a vast amount of transactional data that is provided by our industry partners, the manufacturers, the distributors, where sales are going or how their deliveries are going. That information is partnered with our supply chain control tower. That helps us monitor the public health industrial base and focus on critical aspects of the supply chain that we need to be aware of. With this type of data, it helps us anticipate and resist these disruptions. Then we can recover more quickly if we know what’s happening in the field.”

ASPR launched the supply chain control tower during the height of the pandemic in May 2020 in collaboration with other departments, such as the departments of Defense, Commerce and Labor, to address cross-cutting supply chain challenges and to strengthen the public health supply chain.

Joyner said ASPR now is seeing how it can expand the data it collects from healthcare providers and facilities as it currently focuses on COVID tests kits, PPE and other related products.

“During the height of COVID, the supply chain control tower provided very regular data. I have to say a lot of it is proprietary and confidential. It’s not something that’s published to the public, but it’s definitely something that was critical for the use during our response efforts, internal to the government,” she said.

Finding industry innovations

Along with the supply chain control tower, ASPR also launched a new effort in February called the Industrial Base Expansion (IBx) Connect initiative.

Joyner said it’s designed to connect industry with the government and find some innovative ways to solve supply chain challenges.

Through the online platform, companies can request a meeting with ASPR, which also brings in partners from other agencies that may be interested and have expertise that would help understand the technology.

“It’s usually a very casual conversation. It provides that dialogue and that transparency with the private sector and the government that we found is super helpful,” she said. “We allow the companies who are presenting to discuss their technologies, and let us know how that might support a program that we have. It could be on expanding their domestic manufacturing, making it more efficient, or it can be other technologies that may be advanced manufacturing to make something faster, to make it distributive, so that you can move it to the location of an incident.”

ASPR and other federal partners also provides recommendations and technical advice for how the technology may fit into federal response efforts.

Joyner said she wanted to be clear that getting a meeting through IBx Connect isn’t a guarantee of funding from agencies.

“It does help companies because we know even providing a proposal can be a lot of work and a lot of effort so by getting that feedback from the government upfront, we can help them streamline and become more efficient and not waste time, if we feel like it’s not something that should be pursued,” she said. “There are multiple key interests that we look for as they apply for these meetings. One of them is advanced manufacturing efforts for drug substance and drug products. That’s looking at some of the technologies specifically for onshoring of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), which we know is a gap that can make it more cost efficient, and appealing for companies to manufacture domestically. We have supply chain optimization as an area too. We look for testing and diagnostics of devices and those consumables that are used to make those devices, as well as personal protective equipment, which was another critical area that we found was definitely in short supply during the COVID response. We’re always looking at new technologies and efficiencies in those manufacturing processes.”

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  • Arlene Joyner

    Deputy Assistant Secretary and Director of the Office of Industrial Base Management and Supply Chain for the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services

  • Jason Miller

    Executive Editor, Federal News Network