The pharmaceutical supply chain: Are we ready for change?

A tremendous change agent, serialisation data has the power to drive a safer, more efficient pharmaceutical supply chain — for everyone, reports John Bermudez, General Manager, Digital Network Platform, TraceLink

As pharmaceutical companies learn to take a “business as usual” approach to serialisation, they are also beginning to recognise that they have an unprecedented opportunity to unlock more value from this data to address the industry’s toughest supply chain problems.

As serialised product data provides precise inventory and location status, many pharmaceutical companies see this data as a key part of their digital supply chain strategy. At TraceLink’s recent FutureLink conference, it was clear that the industry has recognised the need to be more patient centric and that digital supply chain transformation is a critical requirement to meet this goal.

Common first steps in digital supply chain transformation include the use of digital technologies to sense and measure “inside processes,” followed by the use of digital measurements to improve collaboration, supply chain visibility and inventory transparency.

There is growing momentum behind the idea that working “patient back” helps pharmaceutical companies to develop end-to-end insights to improve supply chain performance and tackle some of the troublesome industry challenges that put patients at risk — specifically drug shortages, availability, quality (or lack of) and security.

Industry at a turning point

Together with the pharmaceutical industry and networked partners across the healthcare ecosystem, TraceLink’s Digital Supply Network is an asset that the industry as a whole can use to improve overall supply chain processes.

As regulatory requirements expand in 2020 and 2023 and generate even more precise inventory and location data across the supply chain, pharmaceutical companies are asking themselves how can this data be used to improve patient outcomes.

The TraceLink Digital Network Platform is an application development and deployment platform that connects multiple levels of the supply chain to enable new digital supply chain processes and foster real-time collaboration.

Leveraging the power of TraceLink’s Digital Supply Network, the Digital Network Platform will help break down barriers as well as extend the reach of patient-centric supply chains and orchestration processes beyond the previous one or two upstream and downstream segments of product supply.

Industry challenges shifting with complexity

Although still a work-in-progress, every business leader at the conference recognised the effects that digital transformation had within their organisation. Although a third noted that digital transformation has already had an impact on supply chain/commercial operations, half responded that the data is now penetrating their organisations more deeply and the impact has been felt throughout the entire company.

To fully embrace digital transformation, healthcare partners and pharmaceutical companies must now develop and deploy new applications that address critical business challenges. For example, new applications providing improved supply and product planning, end-to- end continuous real-time cold-chain monitoring and the prevention of healthcare product shortages and excess as a whole.

Building a patient-centric supply chain

In his FutureLink Nashville keynote, George Llado, CIO for Alexion, asked: “How do we build a patient-centric supply chain for specialty therapies?” For Alexion’s patients, he remarked: “Every dose counts. Lives are being saved. This is all about hope. For ultra-rare disease treatments, we are looking for the needle inside the needle in the haystack. Serving patients and their families is our guiding star.”

According to Llado, Alexion needs “last mile” visibility to ensure that the patient gets their medicine where and when they need it. “The energy comes from us (the pharmaceutical companies at FutureLink) as a consortium. We need an exit strategy from monopolistic platforms. How do we think about starting to create the best ecosystem for our companies?”

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Demonstrating the value of a digital network platform

Offering a perspective from a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, Alessandro de Luca, Chief Information Officer, Merck Healthcare, explained that for the industry, it has become a journey from siloed systems to integrated, predictive, prescriptive self-driving systems.

During his presentation, de Luca stated that the industry needs to look outward and move toward a patient-driven supply network. “Understand patient needs and expectations. Gather real time service data. Define new service measures and create an end-to-end information flow.”

Value creation, according to de Luca, is exponential. “In the world of fast-moving consumer goods, we needed to understand real-time demand and focus on what was actually selling and where, not what we predicted would sell. The supply chain needs to move from thinking about loss elimination to how we create value by acting as one for the patient.”

Network platforms: The engines that will fuel digital innovation

In his FutureLink remarks, Simon Ellis, IDC Program Vice President, noted that in the pharmaceutical industry, supply chain transformation is built around the patient experience. “Today’s best in class will not suffice for tomorrow,” he explained: “Pharmaceutical companies must transform or be left behind.”

Ellis finds priorities are changing for the industry: “Today is about efficiency and effectiveness; 2022 will need to address resiliency and the ability to react to changes in the marketplace.” For consumer/patient facing industries, explained Ellis, “data-informed supply chains and a micrologistics approach will allow companies to address the last mile challenge.” Leveraging the network, he said, is “ultimately about improving patient outcomes.”

Operate tomorrow’s digital supply chain with today’s digital supply network

Roddy Martin, Chief Digital Strategist for TraceLink, believes the pharma supply chain has major fractures and fault lines constraining progress. In his remarks to FutureLink attendees, he explained the industry needs new manufacturing capabilities that can collaboratively co-operate in a networked platform environment to meet patients’ needs.

Nowhere is this more true than in cell and gene therapies wherein single patient needs are being met with massive efficacy. “While we battled to scale-up when bulk pharma was the model, we now need the ability to scale-down from mass production systems to deliver a single product to a patient on time, safely and in full. To achieve this, we need to flip the model and start with the voice and needs of the patient. We have to start thinking about our enabling systems in terms of patient use cases first.”

He noted that organisations will inevitably undergo a series of transformations in their journey, including

  • defining new moments of truth for end-to-end pharma and healthcare and rallying understanding
  • implementing a patient-centric operating model supported by a global Digital Network Platform that enables network partnering and creates a foundation for specialised applications such as segmentation, network planning and end-to-end cold chain
  • creating a single source of truth for the product and patient based on accurate, uniquely identifiable real-time data that incorporates analytics capabilities to guide decisions and find new trends
  • moving traditional analytics from answering questions that we know to finding new questions and trends that previously were unknowns and look for patterns and trends to give us new and deeper insights.

Martin recommends that companies start to reshape their strategic business and operating planning models, beginning with mapping value-stream processes and architecting data sharing exchange systems across the network from the patient back to supply.

He also recommended that operations managers involved in developing new capabilities invest and partner with proven technologies and suppliers. “Choose a digital network platform (don’t be tempted to build your own, the answer is in the network not just technology). Buy into existing industry specific network capabilities such as specialty pharma and achieve rapid scale.”

He noted that holistic transformation value comes from scaling and operating within your technology partner’s established network.

Martin concluded his presentation with these thoughts: “Think in terms of the digital me and ask yourself: Do I have my digital act together? Do I know what I want to share? Am I ready to take accountability and not consider digital as someone else's problem?” Communities of patients are already voluntarily sharing personal data in an effort to improve patient collaboration and outcomes; personal data is definitely a challenge, but it’s no longer the problem it used to be.

Meeting future challenges now

Ten years ago, TraceLink had the vision that quality, security and integrity of the global pharmaceutical supply chain could be improved if the participants of the supply chain were able to share trusted data in real-time. The TraceLink Digital Supply Network made the first part of this vision, serialisation and codified track and trace a reality.

The Digital Network Platform is enabling the industry to take the next step in sharing more than serialisation data across the global supply chain. By collaborating together on one digital network platform, companies will be able to share and analyse data, create new processes that deliver business value and, at the same time, protect the global drug supply chain and keep patients safe.

Featured Companies

Merck KGaA (more information, website)

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