The ability to make medicines available to people quickly is one of the core goals of global healthcare. Doing this is not easy, however, as proven by recent global events, reports Kelly Doering, Senior Director at AspenTech
Throughout the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges facing pharmaceuticals manufacturers was how to make certain that newly developed COVID vaccines were distributed quickly — to every corner of the world — to maximise global protection.
Although the rollout was a big success overall, disparities remain. According to a report from Bloomberg UK, 12.7 billion doses had been administered across 184 countries (as of 5 October 2022).1
In the US, as many as 613 million doses had been given up to that point at a rate 182.8 doses per 100 people; in Nigeria, by contrast, just 67.3 million doses had been given at a rate of 32.6 doses per 100 people, which is symptomatic of low COVID vaccination levels overall in many sub-Saharan African countries.
The problem of inequitable access to medicines extends well beyond COVID vaccines. According to the World Health Organization, two billion people globally still don’t have access to basic medicine.2
The increased incidence of disease can also place the emphasis more clearly on the need for supply chain agility. Recent news, warning of a potential penicillin shortage in the UK is a case in point.3
Why digitalisation is key
Digitalisation is a key factor in ensuring supply chain versatility and flexibility. This is supported by recent third-party analysis. According to a 2021 research study, Culture Reimagined: How Pharmaceutical Firms Can Use Data and AI with Confidence, companies that have a more advanced digital culture use data effectively across all aspects of drug manufacture.4
Eighty per cent of such “digital culture leaders” in the research say their vaccine manufacturing capacity will be significantly impacted by digital technologies going forward.
Building a digitally focused culture
This focus on culture is key to digitalisation success. Cultural barriers continue to hinder digital transformation progress. Inertia in stakeholder buy-in persists because of the effort and change management needed to make real progress in the digital journey.
Many factors play into this, including a company’s stage of digital maturity and their current digital ecosystem. Leadership with vision for a holistic digital transformation strategy is key to achieving lasting success. Top-down initiatives help. Equally, innovation and proof points from the bottom-up inspire more wide-ranging implementation. Everyone has a role to play.
A recent report from McKinsey speaks to the need for pharma to revisit their operations strategies to foster greater resilience and maintain profitability.5 Inflation is clearly a headwind, as not only has the industry continued to face shortages in materials, but costs have skyrocketed, creating an imperative to find new ways to protect margins.
In addition, pharma companies continue to wrestle with the need to shorten time-to-market without compromising quality … and to build strategies that address inequities in access to medicine.
There also remains an urgency to become better prepared to manage the next crisis.6 And to top it off, pharma is experiencing a significant talent shortage across the industry.
Technology is the tailwind
According to McKinsey’s report, advancing digital technologies is the tailwind that will help to address these challenges and propel the industry forward. The number of McKinsey “lighthouse” organisations is increasing, with Johnson & Johnson now making the pharma list.
The availability of digital technologies and sensors has increased dramatically, both in parallel and in response to global disruptions. In general, these tools have become much more affordable and easier to use than in decades past.
Digitalisation enhances efficiencies — saving time, bolstering data integrity and reducing wasted product. When leveraged during drug discovery, process design and/or tech transfer, digitalisation can add millions of dollars in revenue potential for each day gained under patent protection, making profitability targets that much more attainable.
Still more critically, it enables pharmaceutical manufacturers to actively play their part in helping to address the healthcare challenges of today by not only developing cutting-edge medicines but also distributing them quickly and efficiently to those people that need them in every corner of the world.