AstraZeneca says that plans to introduce its new supply and delivery service have been moved back to the beginning of 2008 from the third quarter this year to ensure its “smooth and successful introduction”.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker announced in April that Celesio’s British distribution unit AAH Pharmaceuticals and Alliance Boots’ wholesale unit UniChem will deliver the company’s prescription medicines to doctors, pharmacies and hospitals across the UK but its “implementation phase” has now been extended to early 2008.

When asked by PharmaTimes World News why the extension was deemed necessary, AstraZeneca spokeswoman Claire Jacques said that an internal decision was taken to ensure that the changes to the supply chain will benefit customers, giving them more time to ensure they have accounts with AAH or UniChem. The firm added that the delay gives it more time to consult with customers, “gaining their insight on how we can help them to help patients gain the maximum benefits from their medicines” and allows the firm to “align all aspects of the new arrangements with our own internal structures”.

Ms Jacques added that AAH and UniChem have been reassured that the extension is in no way a reflection of either company’s performance and stressed that AstraZeneca is still committed to revising its supply chain and working with the two distributors. The company concluded by noting that it will take responsibility “for ensuring that a modern and simplified” service is in place “so the right medicine, often for serious conditions, is delivered to the right place, for every patient, every single time”.

NPA pleased with delay

Despite AstraZeneca’s determination to implement the new service, the announcement of the delay was greeted enthusiastically by groups who are opposed to the concept of using sole or dual agents. Raj Nutan at the National Pharmacy Association said that “community pharmacists form a vital link in the UK medicines supply chain…ensuring that patients get their medicines in a timely manner” and was working just fine before direct-to-pharmacy deals became the vogue.

It allowed “community pharmacists to source from a range of wholesalers - if one was out of stock another wholesaler could usually fulfil an order,” Mr Nutan noted, saying that “this choice and competition also provided downward pressure of the cost of medicines, the costs of which are eventually picked up by the tax-payer”.

Analysts give stock ‘buy’ rating

Meantime, AstraZeneca has been boosted by a positive report from Deutsche Bank which has reinitiated coverage of the stock with a ‘buy’ rating. In a research note, analyst Mark Purcell said “we believe that AstraZeneca remains in a strong position to in-license mid-to-late stage assets in focus therapeutic classes such as dyslipidemia, metabolism and infection through 2007 and will likely gain opportunities to line-extend key products facing patent expiration by 2012”. By Kevin Grogan