Bob Lea, respiratory in a lab

Making the Ellipta® inhaler a reality

Meet Bob Lea - he’s a supply chain leader for our Ellipta® inhaler products. He coordinates teams around the world that produce and supply the innovative inhaler to millions of patients every year.

Behind each component part of the Ellipta inhaler is a story that spans decades. It’s a narrative with a cast of thousands that crosses continents, disciplines and lives.  Overseeing this whole process is Bob, a man with the ability to see the ‘big picture’ behind our innovative inhaler.

A trained engineer, Bob joined GSK in 1981, spending much of his career in production environments. During those 36 years, Bob has seen how our respiratory devices have evolved, from the classic blue aerosol puffer, to the Diskus inhaler, and most recently the advent of the Ellipta device design.

Building a platform for success

For the success of the new product Bob’s role was pivotal. His challenge to turn the design for the Ellipta into a reality was two-fold; to build a supply chain and manufacturing process for a device that would ultimately be used by millions around the world.

“The Diskus inhaler had 14 parts, while the Ellipta has 28”, explains Bob, “which makes my job more interesting and challenging at the same time!

“There are multiple components and medicines that go into devices, all the raw materials, and all the packaging components that need to be assembled, before we dispatch the medicines to pharmacies to reach patients.”

Complexity, components and collaboration

Glimpse inside the Ellipta inhaler and you’ll see a ‘torsion hub’, put together in the UK, but comprising of a spring from Denmark, made from wire manufactured in South Korea.

The result of this logistical complexity is a component that winds up the foil used to keep the medicine fresh so that the patient gets their medicine as intended.

“There are so many suppliers, who all have to do the right thing at the right time, to bring all the parts together to create the device, which then goes to one of the many countries where we’re launching that product.”

Launch is just the beginning of the journey

Ellipta supply chain
Ellipta inhalers on the production line, Ware, UK

Launching a product is, of course, just the beginning. In 2013, the year Ellipta first reached patients, 3 million devices were made. The following year that volume rose to 10 million, with 30 million devices being made in 2016.

 For Bob, who cites building the Ellipta supply chain as the achievement he’s most proud of, the ambition is to reach 100 million inhalers by the end of 2017. 

“The Ellipta inhaler is a device which can deliver a whole range of different medicines. The launch of each new medicine represents a build on the previous one and this year we will be launching our fifth medicine within the Ellipta device.”

“We first started to think about including three medicines in a single inhaler  - triple therapy -  back in 2008 and we’ve been planning for the launch of this product ever since.”

Test, test and test again

Bob spends his working day checking every single link in a very large chain to ensure every part of this enormous process is running efficiently, motivated by that thought.

Bob Lea with colleague in warehouse
Preparing for Ellipta inhalers to be shipped worldwide

He continuously monitors the supply chain, at GSK’s suppliers, and at the suppliers’ suppliers (more than 100 in total) to ensure his high standards are maintained.

As someone who’s spent their working life in this line of work, I love to see 120 units a minute rolling along the production line – because that’s 120 patients we’re helping.”

“From the raw materials coming in right through to the device that is packaged up and ready to go out to a patient, it’s about quality.”

Devices are tested, tested, and tested again to ensure they meet our rigorous standards.

“We test everything that comes in to make our products; from testing the product itself as it’s being made, to every Ellipta devices functionality to make sure it’s working properly before it reaches our patients.

“People need to trust that we are producing the very best medicines and products to help them with their diseases.”

Bob doesn’t have a team of direct reports, relying instead on a virtual team at sites across the globe. Under his leadership, this huge ensemble cast works towards the same goal.

“Many of us working at GSK have friends or relatives, or know of people living with COPD or asthma,” Bob explains.

“Helping that person at the end of the supply chain to live every breath is what motivates us.”