We understand how important it is to get medicines and vaccines to the people who need them, and providing those medicines is at the center of what we do. Three years after stepping in to fill the gap left by other companies, Merck is meeting the increased demand for a cancer medicine, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our Durham, North Carolina team.
In 2012, Merck became the only source of a specific cancer medicine in the U.S. and many countries after other companies that made similar medicines stopped production. It’s an older medicine that has been prescribed by oncologists for decades to treat an early-stage type of cancer.
When Merck became the sole source of this medicine, due to supply outages, we stepped up. Thanks to hard work and dedication, Merck is now meeting the increased demand for this medicine – six months ahead of schedule.
“Merck has a long history of rising to the challenge when patients are counting on us,” says Chief Medical Officer Michael Rosenblatt, M.D.
To help address this gap and ensure that cancer patients could continue to get the medicine they need, the team at Merck’s manufacturing facility in Durham went above and beyond, increasing production of the medicine by more than 100 percent.
In order to meet the sudden surge in demand, the Durham team had to optimize and streamline their processes. This included shortening lead times and moving to a rolling shut- down so machinery could be calibrated and maintained without stopping production. This required cooperation among many different parts of the organization, “like a whole orchestra that needs to be coordinated very closely,” says Jimmy Weirich, IPT lead.
Today, Merck is at full supply in the U.S., and in most countries around the world. The company is producing to the full extent of our capacity and expects to be able to produce between 850,000 to 1 million vials annually.
“Every vial is important because each one represents an opportunity to help patients,” says John Howell, site head for Merck’s Durham facility.
The medicine is very difficult to produce. Each batch takes at least three months to make, 30 days of which is waiting for bacteria – used to make the medicine – to grow. Each batch also requires extensive quality testing before packaging and distribution.
Merck has taken considerable action to keep health authorities, patient advocates and health care professionals informed about the availability of this medicine. Merck continues to focus on ensuring that we can provide this medicine to our customers and patients as quickly as we can.