Pharma Focus Asia
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Revolutionising the Pharma Supply Chain

Blockchain, Digitalisation, and Collaboration

John Ward, Founder and CEO, ServBlock

In this article, John Ward discusses the impact of blockchain, digitalisation, and collaboration on the pharmaceutical supply chain. Addressing vulnerabilities, fostering partnerships, and embracing technology can lead to a more resilient, patient-centric industry. Ward highlights the importance of ethical considerations, workforce development, and strategic alliances for the sector's future success.

1. What are the major changes you see affecting today’s pharmaceutical supply chain?

The continuous digital transformation, including blockchain technology for greater traceability, increasing attention to sustainability, and a move towards localised production to reduce risks are the main developments I see affecting today's pharmaceutical supply chain. The necessity for a resilient and adaptable supply chain has been further underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Technology frontiers have witnessed some quick recent breakthroughs that will help with the digital transition.

My personal opinion and the main objective of ServBlock is that the pharma supply chain will undergo significant changes as a result of blockchain technology. Blockchain technology can increase supply chain traceability, security, and trust by offering a decentralised, tamper-proof ledger. It might help stop the sale of fake medications, speed up recalls, and enable stakeholders to share information securely.

Pharma firms are now giving environmental friendly activities, such as decreasing waste, increasing energy efficiency, and adopting circular economy ideas into their operations, top priority due to an ever-increasing focus on sustainability.

Business organisations are looking into localised production and distribution solutions to lessen supply chain vulnerabilities. By using this strategy, disruptions brought on by geopolitical variables or transportation problems can be reduced.

Companies increasingly rely on third-party providers for manufacturing, packaging, and other supply chain activities to streamline operations and cut costs as outsourcing and contract manufacturing gain dominance. Once more, Servblock has positioned itself to further decentralised manufacturing made possible by distributed ledger technologies. Our mission is to assist businesses in making sure that outsourced production runs just like it does in-house.

2. What are the top trends shaping pharma supply chains?

Digitalisation and advanced analytics: Businesses may streamline operations, improve teamwork, and facilitate better decision-making throughout the supply chain by leveraging the power of data and technology.

Blockchain technology: This cutting-edge innovation provides a safe, transparent, and traceable answer for handling pharmaceutical supply chain data, confirming the genuineness of the products, and enhancing patient safety in general.

When it comes to personalised medication, supply chains must be more adaptable and agile to suit more focused, smaller manufacturing runs and a range of distribution requirements.

Sustainability: Businesses are embracing greener practices to lessen their influence on the environment, such as minimising waste, implementing renewable energy sources, and making sure that raw materials and packaging materials are sourced ethically. This emphasis on sustainability can also improve brand perception and assist businesses in complying with legal regulations. Approaching the market collaboratively can result in shared innovations, resources, and risk mitigation techniques. Partnerships can be formed with suppliers, contract manufacturers, technology providers, and even rival companies.

Improved traceability and visibility throughout the whole supply chain are essential for locating possible bottlenecks and guaranteeing product quality. These levels of visibility and traceability are being made possible by technologies like IoT, blockchain, and cloud computing.

3. How can pharma companies improve supply chain resilience?

Diversifying suppliers and manufacturers can help manage risks associated with relying too heavily on a single source, lessening the effects of disruptions brought on by geopolitical reasons, natural catastrophes, or other unforeseen events.

Strong risk management: Using all-encompassing risk management techniques, such as contingency planning, supplier audits, and scenario analysis, can assist businesses in proactively identifying and addressing potential supply chain weaknesses.

Investing in sophisticated analytics allows businesses to improve decision-making, streamline operations, and spot potential dangers before they materialise into major disruptions.

Implementing digital technologies can enhance transparency, traceability, and collaboration throughout the entire supply chain. Examples of these technologies include blockchain, IoT, and AI. By utilising these technologies it can supercharge businesses in improving inventory management, streamlining logistics, and guaranteeing product quality.

Establishing good relationships with stakeholders, such as governments, business leaders, and nonprofit groups, can promote a collaborative environment that makes it easier to share information, work on problems together, and plan reactions to disruptions. This collaboration may improve the pharmaceutical supply chain's overall resilience.

Constant improvement and learning: To increase supply chain resilience, businesses should keep an eye on continuous improvement, draw lessons from previous disruptions, and put best practices into practice. Frequent evaluations and benchmarking against industry standards can help pinpoint problem areas and promote continuous growth.

Pharma businesses can improve the resilience and agility of their supply chains by concentrating on these tactics, better preparing them to meet the challenges of a globally connected and complicated market.

4. What are your thoughts on ongoing digitalisation of the pharma supply chain industry?

Several factors contribute to the pharmaceutical supply chain industry's ongoing digitalisation, which has far-reaching repercussions and a transformational nature.

Demand planning, and decision-making, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies are now routinely harvested  to spot patterns and trends in supply chain data. Inventory management can be improved by AI and ML, resulting in fewer stockouts and overstocks.

Automation and robotics: Automating repetitive operations, including labelling and packaging, can assist lower human error and boost overall productivity. This could result in shorter production periods, lower prices, and better-quality goods.

Blockchain technology: With its tamper-proof, decentralised ledger, blockchain can improve trust, traceability, and security by enabling safe data exchange and product authentication along the whole supply chain. Blockchain can help patients stay secure by preventing the sale of fake medicines.

Sophisticated analytics and data visualisation: By utilising these tools and approaches, pharmaceutical organisations can acquire a deeper understanding of their supply chains. This may increase the danger.

5. What are the key challenges for pharma companies in 2023?

Managing complex supply chains: As personalised medicine and specialised therapies gain prominence, supply chains must become more flexible and adaptable to accommodate these changes. This requires the development of new manufacturing processes and logistics strategies to meet the specific demands of such therapies.

Securing raw materials: The increasing demand for pharmaceuticals has led to concerns about the availability and cost of raw materials, particularly those sourced from a limited number of suppliers or countries. Ensuring a stable supply of raw materials may require diversification of sources, vertical integration, or strategic partnerships with suppliers.

Regulatory compliance: Pharma companies face stringent regulations that vary across countries and regions. Adapting to new or changing regulations, such as serialisation requirements or environmental standards, can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.

Cybersecurity and data protection: As companies embrace digital technologies and data sharing, they must also prioritise securing their systems and protecting sensitive information from cyber threats.

Talent management and workforce development: With the rapid advancement of technology and changing industry dynamics, pharma companies need to attract and retain skilled talent. This involves investing in employee training, fostering a culture of innovation, and embracing diversity and inclusion.

Cost containment and pricing pressure: Rising R&D costs, coupled with increasing pressure from payers and governments to reduce drug prices, present challenges for maintaining profitability. Companies may need to explore innovative pricing models, optimise internal processes, and adopt cost-effective technologies to stay competitive.

Patient engagement and satisfaction: As patients become more empowered and knowledgeable about their health, pharma companies must prioritise patient-centricity, focusing on improving patient outcomes, ensuring timely access to therapies, and addressing unmet medical needs.

6. What disruptions are global pharma supply chains vulnerable to that can significantly impact their operations?

Limited suppliers and manufacturing facilities: When suppliers and manufacturing facilities are clustered in a narrow area, the supply chain is more susceptible to risks such as regional political turmoil, natural disasters, and transportation disruptions.

Pandemics and global health crises: As was the case with the COVID-19 pandemic, a sharp rise in demand for a given medication or piece of medical equipment can strain the supply chain and result in shortages.

Extreme weather events and climate change are ever-increasing through global warming. As a result of climate change, natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and droughts are occurring more frequently and with greater severity. This can have direct and indirect consequences for the supply chain such as impeding transportation and production, which may result in supply chain bottlenecks.

Cybersecurity risks: As the pharmaceutical supply chain digitises, it is more vulnerable to intrusions. These attacks have the potential to steal private information, halt operations, and erode stakeholder confidence.

Fostering collaboration amongst many stakeholders, including governments, significant players in the business, and nonprofit organisations, will be crucial to building a pharmaceutical supply chain that is more strong and flexible.

7. Any other thoughts that you would like to share?

The pharmaceutical business must negotiate the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead as it finds itself at a critical juncture.

Here are some further ideas for the future of the sector:

Strategic alliances and collaborations between the sector and external parties including technology suppliers, governments, and nonprofit groups will be advantageous for the industry. Working together can encourage innovation, allow for resource sharing, and strengthen supply chains.

Pharma companies must be open to investigating and implementing cutting-edge business strategies if they are to keep up with the changing environment. Direct-to-consumer channels, digital therapies, and value-based pricing are a few examples of these.

The business must concentrate on putting patients at the core of its plans as personalised medicine develops popularity. This may entail making use of data that patients create themselves, creating patient support initiatives, and guaranteeing quick access to life-saving treatments.

It is crucial to spend on staff training and development given the rising usage of digital technology and decision-making based on data. An educated workforce will be better able to meet the demands of the digital age and advance the sector.

The industry must keep ethical considerations at the forefront as it innovates and adopts new technologies. This includes a dedication to minimising environmental effects, protecting privacy, and treating data responsibly.

In conclusion, to assure the delivery of life-saving medications, the pharmaceutical business must address supply chain vulnerabilities, integrate digital technologies like blockchain, and work together throughout the sector. By confronting these problems head-on

With the increasing adoption of digital technologies and data-driven decision-making, it is essential to invest in employee training and development. A skilled workforce will be better equipped to handle the challenges of the digital era and drive the industry forward.

As the industry continues to innovate and embrace new technologies, ethical considerations must remain at the forefront. This includes responsible data handling, privacy protection, and a commitment to reducing environmental impact.

In summary, the pharmaceutical industry must confront supply chain vulnerabilities, adopt digital technologies like blockchain, and collaborate across the sector to ensure the delivery of life-saving medicines. By addressing these challenges head

--Issue 51--

Author Bio

John Ward

John Ward is founder and CEO of ServBlock, founded in early 2021, following John’s recognition of the potential for Blockchain and Data Space technologies to revolutionise the regulated manufacturing space. ServBlock focusses on trusted data exchange through distributed ledger and blockchain technologies. For over a decade, John has been at the forefront of the highly regulated pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, working alongside many of the world's leading biotech companies in his role as principal consultant within the validation space. Most recently as a product owner in Pfizer's global Smart Factory team.

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