5 Questions With Vimala Raghavendran, Senior Director and Head of USP Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Center

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Vimala Raghavendran, Senior Director and Head of USP Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Center.

Vimala Raghavendran leads the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Center, which houses the USP Medicine Supply Map, an information system that identifies, characterizes, and quantifies risk in the upstream pharmaceutical supply chain so that stakeholders can prioritize supply chain investments and prevent drug shortages.

Vimala has been with USP for over six years, where, prior to her current role, she led a multinational enterprise strategy and analytics team. Before USP, Vimala led strategy consulting teams at McKinsey that solved strategic problems for payors, providers, PBMs and pharmaceutical companies within the government and private sector. She has also worked in market research and business development at the non-profit drug development company, the International Partnership for Microbicides.

She has an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from Knox College.

1) Please introduce yourself to our audience by looking back at your education, training, and career.

When I was 19, I moved from Mumbai to attend Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.  I must have always been interested in analytics and storytelling because I majored in economics (with a lot of mathematics coursework) and edited the student newspaper.

After school, I joined the non-profit drug development company, the International Partnership for Microbicides. The organization utilized public funds to develop a novel HIV prevention device for women. Recognizing I needed to round out my skills, I got an MBA at the Wharton School. After that, I joined McKinsey as a consultant, where I led teams working on strategic problems in healthcare. Consulting was where I really honed my analytical storytelling skills.

After McKinsey, I was keen to see if I could return to a career within the global, non-profit sector and found USP, which has been a great fit! When our leadership asked me to move to the newly founded Digital and Innovation group, and build a team focused on solving a big problem–the lack of transparency in the medicines supply chain, I jumped at the opportunity.

2) Tell us more about your day-to-day in your current role at USP. What excites you the most about the work you do?

Working with my colleagues on the USP Medicine Supply Map is a lot of fun. I spend much of my time with a team of highly creative data scientists and data engineers who have a deep understanding of pharmaceutical data. Often, we pull in colleagues from across USP with expertise in drug nomenclature, pharmacy, analytical chemistry, and product management to solve specific problems–for example, how to characterize the risk of a disruption of raw material supply. For me, the most enriching part is when I can combine analytics and storytelling to help demystify the drivers of risk for a specific medicine’s supply chain.

I also frequently talk to external collaborators who help guide our understanding of the problem. USP has a vast network, given its offices in India, China, Europe, and the US, and the 490+ organizations in the USP Convention that span the medicines supply chain.

Finally, I spend time with my colleagues in the Digital and Innovation division, who are working on a range of exciting topics, including exploring emerging trends and technologies that may impact the industries USP works in, figuring out how to make 200+ years of USP content machine-readable to reduce errors and improve medicine quality, and developing new insights by structuring disparate, unstructured data.

3) Can you tell us more about USP’s Medicine Supply Map? How did this get started, how was it developed, and how can people use it?

Over five years ago, we started building out a data warehouse to connect USP’s internal data with external data sources to build a picture of the pharmaceutical supply chain. At the time, our goal was to better anticipate our stakeholders’ needs.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in early 2020, and the lack of visibility into the supply chain became front-page news, we realized we could contribute to solving the problem using the data we had already started to enrich and curate.

The result is the first-of-its-kind Medicine Supply Map, which helps people identify, characterize, and quantify risk in the upstream medicine supply chain. We have over 40 datasets and 250 million data points with coverage across 92 percent of generic prescription medicines.

The insights in the USP Medicine Supply Map can help governments prioritize investments in improving the supply chain resilience of medicines, active ingredients, and raw materials. Manufacturers can use the USP Medicine Supply Map to identify market opportunities and assess ways to de-risk their raw material supply chains. Group Purchasing Organizations, wholesalers, and hospitals can use the Medicine Supply Map to anticipate drug shortages and prioritize actions to mitigate their impact.

Currently, USP’s data scientists work directly with stakeholders to address their questions. The best way to get in touch is by emailing us at medicinesupplymap@usp.org.

4) Can you tell us more about other resources, insights, and products that USP offers to the medical research and healthcare communities?

For those who are not familiar with USP, we are an independent, scientific non-profit which for over 200 years has been defining quality standards and building trust in medicines. USP has over 7000 standards for pharmaceuticals, foods, and dietary supplements.

Although our standards are recognized as the official standard for medicines by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (and by the laws of about 50 other countries) we are not part of the U.S. government.

Our scientists work with experts from industry, government, and academia who volunteer to help develop the quality standards–essentially tests and reference materials that help ensure a drug ingredient or medicine is what it exactly purports to be and that it does not contain something it should not–like adulterants or impurities. 

USP’s role as a convener provides us with unique insights into the global medicines supply chain – the challenges and opportunities to strengthen it.

As medicine manufacturing became more global, USP’s footprint has globalized. For example, USP’s USAID-funded PQM+ program helps manufacturers and regulators around the world improve the supply of quality medicines.

USP has been at the forefront as medicine manufacturing techniques evolve, working to develop best practices, training, and standards, to advance pharmaceutical continuous manufacturing as it is an important tool to enable increased diversification, and therefore resiliency of the medicines supply chain.

Also, our work includes helping to build public trust and confidence in innovative products like mRNA-based therapies. Since the successful application of mRNA technology is relatively new, a common approach for assessing mRNA quality would support developers, manufacturers, regulatory agencies, and national control laboratories worldwide, and provide tools to help accelerate the development of safe and effective mRNA vaccines and therapies. To meet this need, USP and a group of leading mRNA experts are seeking scientific input on new draft guidelines, Analytical Procedures for mRNA Vaccine Quality

5) If you could have dinner with any one person, dead or alive, real or fictional, who would that person be, and where would you go for dinner?

Justice Thurgood Marshall at Indique, my favorite Indian restaurant in Washington, DC. I admire his fearlessness and conviction in the context of the time in which he lived. And I suspect he would have liked Indian food!