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06/03/2020

Q&A: Dillaway shares Ascend’s plan for bolstering infrastructure

Ascend Labs has been busy. The company has been focused on growing its portfolio of products, with a particular emphasis on underserved areas of the generics market, while also building out the capacity and leadership to support these efforts. DSN spoke to John Dillaway, executive vice president at the Parsippany, N.J.-based company, about how it is expanding while also navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Drug Store News: What type of products does Ascend Labs focus on to be successful?
John Dillaway: Ascend has no specific therapeutic categories that we focus on. Rather, we look out four to five years to see what’s coming off patent and analyze those items based on our capabilities and ability to invest and choose items to develop that we feel will be a good match for us to successfully develop and gain approval on by the innovator patent expiration date. We have been making investments in infrastructure and talent that will enable us to be involved with more complex molecules and even biosimilars, which we believe will distinguish us in our space and further our efforts to hold a significant presence in our markets

DSN: Why is it crucial now to develop products that are underserved in the market?
JD: There are several dynamics at play here. Over the past few years, many generic manufacturers have rationalized their product lines and cut back or discontinued many items that may have been overserved in the market or did not offer adequate return. 

Plus, as newer therapeutic treatments enter the market, older molecules lose traction and market share to the new. The results of this can be that some items that were overserved now become underserved. We are also seeing now, with the advent of COVID-19, some older molecules, such as hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, all of a sudden thrust into national demand. Older molecules typically hold the advantage of being less expensive than newer ones for consumers and, in many cases, can be equally as therapeutically effective, so it’s important that these older products not be forgotten and be reviewed by manufacturers to ensure adequate availability.

DSN: How are you operating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?
JD: The virus has definitely had an impact on how we are working, but fortunately, so far it has not had a significant impact on our ability to work or keep our supply lines open.

Ninety-nine percent of our incoming orders are done electronically, so we are able to send those orders to our distribution center for processing. We use an established third-party logistics company for this function and are in very close contact. For their part, they have all workers in receiving pick, pack and ship, continuing to report to work at the warehouse daily. Because we are dealing with medical supplies, the transportation companies are aware and giving us a priority response. Contacts with other transport companies also have been made in case illness does affect our primary carriers.

DSN: How has Ascend enhanced its production capability recently? 
JD: Currently, Ascend markets over 55 molecules, accounting for over 175 SKU’s inclusive of all strengths and sizes, but, importantly, Ascend also has over 50 more molecules fully developed and awaiting approval. And with another 100 molecules behind that at various stages of development, how will we keep our commitment to stay in all these for our customers? 

The answer is increased capacity. And lots of it. Over the past 18 months, we have completed a doubling of capacity at our Damon facility in India. Two years ago, we would have told you we were producing about half a billion doses per month. Today, we are at over a billion doses a month. Additionally, we are well along toward opening what will be our third manufacturing campus in India in Indore, the other two being Damon, as mentioned, and Baddi. The Indore facility is expected online within the year and will double again our overall capacity to over 2 billion doses each month. This capacity is in addition to our U.S. facilities located in St. Louis, Mo., and Azusa, Calif. All told, we believe this infrastructure development will serve our needs over the next decade. 

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