Top 5 Trends Affecting the Pharma/Life Sciences Supply Chain

Man uses cell phone to make a pharmaceutical purchase in a pharmacy. Technology trends affect life science supply chains.

The modern supply chain is constantly reshaped by multiple market forces that include new security regulations, industry mandates, and customer demands. The supply chain in the ever-growing – and highly regulated –  life sciences and pharmaceutical industries, however, is particularly vulnerable to these market forces, as constantly evolving mandates, security requirements, and consumer expectations greatly affect how commerce happens every step of the way.

That means life sciences and pharmaceutical organizations must maintain vigilance in evaluating everything from operational processes to technology to ensure a dynamic, agile, and always-resilient supply chain.

Here are the top five trends that stand to affect the life sciences supply chain going forward and that will continue to challenge the way these organizations do business.

Trend #1 – Big Data and Cloud Computing

It’s no secret that big data and cloud computing have drastically changed the way businesses use technology to improve workflows, gain new revenue, and prioritize IT resources. For life sciences and pharmaceutical companies, there are numerous ways to leverage these technologies, especially on the big data analytics side.

To take full advantage of all these technologies have to offer, however, and gain insights to use for predictive models, life sciences companies must be able to integrate large amounts of datafrom a variety of sources in real time. Life sciences companies must integrate their systems and aggregate data to gain real-time supply chain data to understand things like mix-level detail and material and capacity constraints to optimize production. Only when these organizations fully aggregate their system, application, cloud, warehouse, RFID, and operational data into a data lake can they begin to run analytics and optimize their supply chains.

Bayer AG, for example, is a life sciences and pharmaceutical company that uses predictive analysis to help activate its supply chain. By analyzing vast weather data sets, the company can predict peak hay fever season and can ramp up production as needed, and it’s pouring more resources into such capabilities.  Just last month, Bayer AG announced it was acquiring Monsanto to effectively double the size of its integrated agriculture business.

Big data analytics also help identify counterfeit medicines and reduce fraud, a multi-billion dollar problem around the world. By using these big data gateway and cloud-based analytics technologies, organizations can analyze the number of drugs manufactured against supply data and market demand and curb drug counterfeiting.

Trend #2 – Precision Medicine

Precision medicine is the model that proposes the customization of healthcare, with medical decisions, treatments, practices, or products being tailored to each individual patient. According to the Precision Medicine Initiative, it is defined as “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.”

Genomic data is a foundation for precision medicine. As genomic sequencing advances, personalized medicine can evolve even further. It has been estimated that between 100 million and as many as 2 billion human genomes could be sequenced by the year 2025. But in order to capitalize on all that genomic data promises, life sciences and pharmaceutical companies need a secure and reliable way to handle and move all of these massive data sets.

Accelerated file transfer protocols are one such way to quickly take the genetic sequencer data and move it to where it needs to go, whether that is storage repository, an analytical cloud, or into an EHR system. Inventory tracking, with serialization and advanced GPS and RFID technology, has never been more sophisticated (pharma companies can even track to the pill level), but there are also emerging processes like additive manufacturing, which consists of small-batch producing, that lead to a far more sophisticated production and distribution supply chain.

Trend #3 – Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) might be starting to sound cliché, and in fact, we’ve said a lot about it right here and here, but the truth is, there is a reason for all the buzz. The connected Internet of Things world is a very technology with loads of promise, and adoption is increasing. In fact, IoT devices for healthcare will grow 6x to 646 million by the year 2020, according to the DHL report The Future of Life Sciences and HealthCare Logistics.

Because of IoT devices, now more than ever, manufacturers and medical facilities have a better understanding of pharmaceutical inventory levels. Pharmaceutical companies have adopted Internet of Things technologies in manufacturing plants to improve process efficiency and optimize supply and demand. IoT devices also provide real-time visibility of operations throughout the manufacturing process – from production to distribution – and they gain transparency as well as a more trackable flow of goods.

Because drug companies and pharmacists get more product inventory status updates than before, they also gain more control and that leads to better stocking results and more predictable costs. They also become more equipped to handle product recalls and increase customer service levels.

For biological products with shelf lives that require a stable temperature over the entire distribution chain, IoT-like devices are critically important. Sensors and data capture mechanisms today can help pinpoint any temperature issues along the way and deliver problem alerts and thorough workflow and analytics tracking.

While the Internet of Things holds a lot of promise, including more ways to access care, many critics have concerns around the security of these IoT. IoT devices, which also could carry a lot of protected health information, are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and alternative security methods will continue to evolve in order to protect such data.

Trend #4 –Industry Regulations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates much of the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries, rigorously testing the safety and efficacy of new drugs and providing guidelines for distribution and consumption. Complying with such requirements – especially when you consider how much data must be securely exchanged to support clinical trials, quality assurance, side effect analysis, and other drug safety measures – can be difficult for the pharma and life sciences companies.

And while emerging technologies have been able to help combat drug counterfeiting, there isn’t a single “cure all” way to stop it. Trace-and-track requirements as part of drug serialization strategies demand a modern IT infrastructure to handle all the data flows (not to mention all the sensors, software, automated machines, etc.) in a way that’s more convenient to track, monitor, and identify products through a full supply chain.

As the European Union monitors its privacy laws with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the life sciences industry needs to understand how it obtains and uses personal data, and be able to prove where it goes and who’s accessing it. These organizations also must prioritize any potential security gaps in its supply chain. It what makes end-to-end data visibility – with a clear view of the product throughout the entire process – so critical. Such visibility also helps when it comes time for data audits, another key part of the GDPR legislation.

Internal policy reviews can be helpful as well, and it’s important to review consent procedures and privacy notes. How an organization obtains content might need to be updated, to ensure it satisfies the new requirements for data privacy. Rather than wait for a security breach to happen, companies should have a plan and the technology in place to maintain industry compliance and proactively protect against such vulnerabilities.

Trend #5 – On-Demand Delivery

Continuing the trends of an increasingly on-demand world (think Netflix, Uber, and Postmates), healthcare on-demand is growing rapidly. There are many new online and homecare impact distribution models that have responded to a demand-driven distribution process. Home-based healthcare has trended upward the past few years, as patients look to find more accessible, convenient ways to receive treatment. Online-pharmacies, point-of-care diagnostics, and remote monitoring have already had a huge effect on healthcare delivery and are expected to increase in popularity.

Such a demand-driven distribution process means pharmaceutical and life sciences companies will have to agilely scale up or down according to consumer demand. An omnichannel strategy, critical to how Amazon and Walmart engage with customers and exceed consumer expectations, also will be key to this delivery model, with manufacturing organizations having to support various fulfillment channels for drugs and treatment products. This means the capacity to integrate with all manner of systems and applications is essential to a more data-driven approach, one that will deliver the personalized experience that a patient expects.

New patterns in pharmaceutical distribution also have emerged, and they bypass wholesalers completely. Now, there are direct-to-patient delivery models, whether it be for diagnostics or medicine. Some locations have even adapted subscription-based programs that make it practically seamless for anyone to receive a prescription. Spinning off the direct-to-patient model, there are also potential direct-to-pharmacy and direct-to-hospital B2B e-commerce models, both of which require new integration capabilities to ensure data flows enable timely fulfillment and delivery.

The ability to connect and seamlessly automate the reliable flow across a supply chain – and across technologies – is no longer a “nice to have,” and a B2B integration platform that’s EDI capable helps companies maximize the potential of these emerging models. A flexible, agile B2B platform automates the high-volume data flows across geo-dispersed business ecosystems and provides end-to-end visibility into the supply chain.

The pharmaceutical and life sciences companies that embrace a B2B integration platform will be the ones who can communicate with all manner of trading partners at any point of the supply chain and ensure a reliable distribution lifecycle.

Technology for the Future

 Technology adoption in healthcare is only going to continue to rise over the next few years, and for life sciences and pharmaceutical companies to grow with that technology, they need to continue to invest in modern approaches to the way they do business. No longer is it possible to be reactive; companies must be proactive to take advantage of all that technology has to offer and to meet evolving industry needs. By doing so, the life sciences industry will strengthen their supply chains and better deliver their products and services to more customers.