Set up for pharmaceutical supply chain success amid COVID-19 and beyond

News date: 14 July 2020Source:

In this week's Expert View, Ed Malatesta and Tim Roberts of PCI Pharma Services provide their company's perspective on supply chain readiness in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has put many things on hold as many parts of the world are still under lockdown. Even in countries where things were beginning to open up, like in the USA, there is an uptick in cases and public health officials are concerned about a second wave.

As a leader in pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical supply chain solutions, we are preparing for what comes next. As businesses reopen in phased approaches, and even as those approaches get delayed or are pulled back, there will inevitably be a rush to go back to the doctor, just like there will be a rush to go to salons for haircuts.

What steps can pharma and biopharma companies take from a supply chain perspective to set themselves up for success?

Think carefully about your forecast

Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, pharma and biopharma companies should be prepared to manage an unusual forecast. As people have been quarantined at home, they have not been going to doctor appointments or seeking medical help unless it is an emergency.

They may also be avoiding physician offices and hospital settings for fear of being exposed to infection, and this is likely to continue for some time, even with businesses opening again. This means that patients may not be getting new prescriptions written or receiving physician administered drugs, which is likely impacting overall volume.

When restrictions are lifted and shelter-in-place orders subside, we can expect a quarter in which there are significant volume increases. To prepare, companies should start building their supply chains for bulk manufacturing and understand the forecast, so necessary components can be ordered ahead of time to finalize packaging before the demand hits.

Additionally, companies should re-evaluate how much supply they normally have in their inventory and consider a shift from an eight-week supply to a 10- or 12-week supply. Having more product in the supply chain will mean being better prepared for a potential second wave of the virus.

Apply for import licenses

With closures of businesses and borders, it has become increasingly harder to get products into certain countries like China, Eastern Europe and Ukraine, which creates longer timelines and delivery delays.

Even with some parts of the world re-opening, things are not running as smoothly as before the pandemic. While large-scale freight forwarders will have their own dedicated air fleet, specialist couriers, used to transport personalized medicines or expensive temperature sensitive biologics may rely upon the cargo holds of passenger aircraft – those flights, and their cargo-hold space are becoming increasingly rarer due to heightened demand.

Companies with supply chains of precious or expensive medicines should give forethought to intercontinental transport.

Companies should apply for challenging import licenses for difficult-to-reach countries as far in advance as possible. The process for obtaining an import license can be time-consuming, so doing this significantly ahead of time, even if some borders are currently closed, will enable companies and their outsourcing partners to be ready as restrictions are lifted and things begin to operate more normally again.

Be proactive and creative

While adjusting to our new normal, we have time to look ahead and be more forward-looking and intentional. Use this time to plan and strategize instead of being reactive. Perhaps you can brainstorm and optimize your clinical trial design, or even consider a direct-to-patient model to improve enrollment and ultimately save on cost.

Instead of putting off those administrative tasks that are always at the bottom of a to-do list, check them off. Spend more time on packaging artwork and componentry designs to make them truly innovative. Take a step back and discuss ways to be more inventive and try new approaches to conduct business.

Keep the adjustments that worked

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to change our old ways of doing business and adapt to newer processes. We have entered a world of working remotely, communicating virtually, and learning new technologies.

The way we interface with our customers is changing; we are asking employees and customers alike to embrace digital transformation. This can serve as time to reassess the effectiveness of the systems currently in place. For example, under social distancing guidelines, conducting on-site audits were challenging. We had to move to a virtual model and were amazed at how effective and efficient this was. Adhere to the adjustments you have made that have proven to be successful.

The effects of the pandemic have thrown obstacles our way and may continue to do so. By implementing some of these practices, your pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies may set themselves up for a smoother journey moving forward in this uncertain time.