Lessons learned: AstraZeneca’s supply chain resilience during the pandemic

By Kevin Robinson | Published: 1-Nov-2021

With 26 manufacturing facilities and a global network of more than 250 suppliers, AstraZeneca’s Global Operations Manufacturing footprint is not only large in scale, it's also highly complex and positioned to deliver medicines to patients worldwide

This includes not only managing the increasing demand for the company’s existing portfolio of medicines, but preparing for new medicines coming through its pipeline. “Everything we produce is as a response to a changing world and is being developed at a speed we have never seen before,” observes Chris Maddock, Vice President of Supply for the EMEA Region.

Talking to Dr Kevin Robinson about the experience that AstraZeneca has had maintaining supply chains during the last 18 months, Chris explains that science and technology are working hand in hand to develop new modalities, novel production techniques and increase speed to market to keep pace.

Societal demands that play into the way our global supply chains operate manifest as pressure to reduce the cost of goods and focus on price points, comply with the changing regulatory landscape and acknowledge the increasing public focus on sustainability and carbon footprints.

Most importantly, patient expectations have become more sophisticated, resulting in a growing need for greater agility and supply chain flexibility, increasingly diverse market segments and the need for patient-centric products and devices.

Chris Maddock

Chris Maddock

The rapidly changing healthcare environment was, without question, accelerated forward as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world. There are a few factors that Chris cites as being the most important learning points and experiences that will influence pharmaceutical manufacturing and supply in the future.

The first area of focus that demanded rapid attention was how to immediately protect the supply chain. The need to understand where everything is and the visibility of both stock and data became absolutely critical to ensuring that supply chains continued to work effectively. Having an accurate inventory that the business could use to direct stocks became key to ensuring that patients would continue to receive medication and good customer service was maintained.

Chris reflects: “What really helped us early on during the COVID-19 crisis was an accurately maintained inventory that allowed us to know where everything was located; the business could then move stocks as required and this became a major factor in our success. In effect, our supply chains were protected.”

The second factor that was critical to the successful production and delivery of medicines was the concept of response preparedness. Scenario building and a comprehensive system based on “what if” situations proved to be invaluable during the global pandemic.

Of upmost importance was the speed and agility with which data could travel through the supply chain. And, what became apparent really quickly was the need to empower leaders at all levels in the organisation. AstraZeneca defaulted to this position early in 2020 as the pandemic evolved. People on the ground could “make the call” by stepping up and taking accountability.

As such, empowerment — not technology alone — drove the decision making. Leaders driving the end-to-end synchronisation of the supply chain could quickly identify where the problems were to prevent or minimise disruption.

Chris notes that another key differentiator in AstraZeneca is fostering a sense of purpose among employees. The company has promoted a huge drive and commitment to delivering for the patient who is the end point of the supply chain, with a clear purpose for employees to rally behind.

Despite the challenges faced during the last 18 months, the company has delivered 83 on-time medicine launches and maintained more than 99% of its supply. Reflecting on the experience, Chris shares that there were three things that really drove his team’s success:

  • Keep it simple: the simpler supply chains are, the easier they are to manage
  • Empower the organisation: engaging employees at all levels will increase speed, agility and commitment to patients
  • Collaborate across the supply chain: clarity, visibility, transparency and working together are fundamental to success.

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