Scaling Up The Biopharmaceutical Supply Chain In Response To COVID-19
By Mandar Paralkar, Global Head of Life Sciences at SAP
As the pandemic advances into its second year, the biopharmaceutical industry is moving fast to overcome the logistical complexities of rolling out a large-scale, global vaccination program. Innovative new methodologies are being deployed to increase visibility across the supply chain and make it more agile. Collaboration at an unprecedented level among all parties involved in the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is critical to success.
Scaling up the supply chain to meet demand requires the development of solutions capable of rationalizing the procurement of vaccine ingredients, managing manufacturing constraints, and streamlining distribution.
Life science organizations must address balancing supply and demand in a highly volatile market made more complex from multiple government agency requests. Using simulations and modeling tools to recognize demand patterns, they quickly learn where vaccines were most needed. The next challenge is getting vaccines produced.
To get supplies quickly up to speed, the industry identifies all suppliers of vaccine ingredients and finds alternatives to fill gaps, especially in APAC and smaller markets. Likewise, to ameliorate manufacturing capacity constraints, supplemental contract manufacturers are engaged to manage fluctuating supply needs. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning improve business processes and quickly adapt to any supply/demand imbalances.
Analytical Tools Help Navigate a Complex Value Chain
The logistics of vaccine distribution can be very complicated, particularly in regions like APAC and South America where the value chain can be fragmented. Local governments define the rules of engagement, dictating where to distribute products and how to allocate supplies based on policies and political considerations.
Analytics plays a key role in ensuring that supplies get to the right place, at the right time, and in the right quantities. AI and machine learning tools are used to complete visibility and transparency across every layer of the supply chain in order to meet market expectations.
Traditionally, business processes focused separately on silos of data as they pertained to each discrete link of the supply chain (e.g., procurement, manufacturing, distribution, etc.). Now, in response to COVID-19, all players collaborate more closely through a Vaccine Collaboration Hub. In effect, the linear supply chain has become more circular. All parties need to broadcast what they are doing and their status at every step along the way. And the relevant government bodies need to be informed in near real time.
The process is broader and more open than ever before, and there’s a much greater willingness to share data, even with competitors. Technology platforms enable greater “openness” by providing more efficient ways to connect players in the value chain and new ways to quickly develop contingency plans to meet the needs of various entities, be they insurers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers or clinics. Lots of innovation is happening, giving diverse parties better ways to collaborate at massive scale.
What We’ve Learned and Where We’re Headed
Adapting a diverse supply chain to quickly meet the enormous demand for vaccines will help us prepare for what’s next—be it another pandemic or something else. We’ve learned how to make adjustments on the fly and proactively anticipate what will be needed to address the next Big Thing. Going forward, we see our industry shifting from an exclusive focus on product issues (e.g., safety and distribution) and increasingly moving into the realm of service-based solutions (e.g., treatment protocols).
The healthcare/life sciences ecosystem is developing innovative ways to connect patients, healthcare professionals, and clinics in order to improve patient outcomes and empower the workforce. From AI-driven “traffic control” systems for hospitals to incentive-based behavior-change engines designed to promote healthier lifestyles, IT is playing a growing and increasingly sophisticated role in modern healthcare.