Traditional pharmaceuticals are changing – the generics market continues to gain market share and advances in nanotechnology, stem cell research and other medical technologies are beginning to impact the production of mainstream medication. Consumer demand trends, changing legislation and geographic dispersion of patients are all changing the face of the industry, and indeed demanding the supply chain evolve with, if not ahead of, such market demands.Advancements at every step of the value chain, such as product development technologies, manufacturing automation, patient interfaces and distribution methods are set to change the way patients receive treatment. Multiple opportunities exist to enhance the pharmaceutical supply chain in line with industry changes, and if such are implemented and managed correctly, the supply chain will become the source of distinct competitive advantage.
Advances in the types of medication that is administered orally – known as oral biologics are set to introduce an entirely new drug to the market. The impact of such is two-fold – new products will replace current medications, and since the new medicine is likely to contain protein – the methods used to transport this fragile ingredient will have to evolve. For example, global pharmaceutical companies are testing for insulin pills, which will radically change the lives of people living with diabetes in that the medication will be easier to administer, not require the accompanying syringes as currently needed, nor will the oral medication require the same type of refrigeration during storage and transport.
Beyond the evolution of medication itself, change in the research & development of new drugs are seeing the introduction of virtual process design and validation which is far less costly than traditional product development, but is also likely to assist in expediting the regulatory approval necessary to bring new products to market. Flexible production lines facilitated by the introduction of modular components will allow manufacturers to switch rapidly between products within one facility. Disposable and miniaturised manufacturing technologies will decrease carbon footprint and shift production locations to more dispersed geographies, and indeed even to the point of dispensing. It is predicted that by 2020, pharmacists will be able to ‘mix’ medications on site, using active ingredients and approved formulations. Such onsite “manufacturing” of individual medications will have a marked impact on the supply chain – shifting it away from the movement of final product to the management of ingredients that could be used across multiple drugs. Such shifts mirror the likely impact of 3D printing in other sectors – changing the supply chain from enabling the sale of final products to a vehicle for the movement of highly specialised raw materials, in small quantities to multiple locations.
The rise of patient interfaces and extensive data collaboration throughout the entire pharmaceutical value chain will create integrated healthcare products that are not only highly responsive but able to anticipate demand through prescriptive analytics. Data gathered throughout the chain will allow for so-called “care-pathways” to be designed for each illness, facilitating the movement of medication efficiently, if not preventatively in some cases. Collaboration between pharmaceutical companies creates the opportunity for consolidated supply chains, which in turn enables higher asset utilisation, drives down distribution costs and decreases the environmental impact of the entire industry. While such cross-industry collaboration is still viewed sceptically by some, the opportunities created far outweigh the disadvantages.
While the pharmaceutical industry is not unique in facing disruption over the coming years, it is arguably the one industry that has the most significant impact on the quality of life of the global population and as such bears a great responsibility in terms of evolving itself, and indeed its supporting supply chains to keep up. As the industry continues to develop, specialised suppliers offering tightly controlled multi-temperature solutions, where physical and data standards work together to maintain product integrity are likely to become more critical to the distribution of advanced medications. 4PL providers that are able to holistically manage supply chains, offering both in-depth expertise and opportunities for collaboration are likely to benefit the industry greatly – both through their ability to contain costs, but also in being able to manage such complex systems in their entirety.
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