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Pandemic has opened up new opportunities for pharma supply chain improvements: PSCI

Supply chains have stood up well to challenges of COVID-19 but industry needs to adapt to evolving challenges, Festival of Pharma delegates are told

While global pharma supply chains have been purpose-built to be resilient and sustainable, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has opened up new opportunities in which the industry can change and improve the way it operates, delegates at the virtual CPhI Festival of Pharma event have been told.

In a keynote address in a session sponsored by Samsung BiologicsCaroline O’Brien, Global Quality Audit – Hub Director for Asia Pacific and Japan at AstraZeneca and also chair of the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI), said that while COVID-19 had had minimal impact on day-to-day supply chain operation, “what has changed is how we’ve accelerated some of the other things that we hadn’t thought about.”

“From a PSCI and a pharmaceutical industry perspective, looking at our supply chain from end to end, we’ve built in that sustainability and that resilience but with the challenges we’ve seen this year, we’ve identified things we can still do – more opportunities and different ways of working,” she told the event. “The bigger challenge is that as the world moves on, is how do we keep some of those good practices, those interconnectivities that we have in place.”

She added that while the pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated, this focus is on ensuring the quality, safety and efficacy of its products.

“But equally, in the outside world, there are a lot of challenges coming to us as an industry that we also need to think about and address, and not just in terms of our own company – we need to be thinking about this through our supply chain,” she said.

She told the audience COVID-19 had had a huge impact on travel and transportation within the pharma industry: “How do we move materials from A to B, how do we get our raw materials from our suppliers in India and China to Europe and the US when there’s limited transportation?”

She added that with the use of personal protective equipment such as masks, respirators and gloves essential in pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities due to many hazardous processes which could expose workers to chemicals, larger demand for PPE in medical facilities had “impacted our ability to access that key safety equipment in the pharma industry.”

“Without question, priority has to go to hospitals and medical establishments to protect their staff, but it’s been a challenge for us – we’ve always assumed that equipment like that would be easy to access,” she said.

O’Brien said that in her view, the word ‘resiliency’ had almost been superseded by the word ‘sustainability’: “In the broadest sense of the word, about being in it for the future, ensuring that all aspects of how we work and what we do are built into that supply chain, built into our activities on a day-to-day basis to ensure that from beginning to end the supply chain is solid and substantial but also that we can continuously deliver at the end of it.”

During the presentation, O’Brien listed a number of external challenges that pharma supply chains face, such as international labour rights focused on better working conditions for employees, sustainable development goals coming from the United Nations and more and move active groups springing up to challenge the industry, particularly over environmental issues.

She said the PSCI had been engaging with investment group Nordea, which five years ago set up a study looking at the issue of water pollution in India and the role of the pharmaceutical industry.

“They challenged and contacted all the CEOs of the pharmaceutical companies, asking them what we were going to do about it because they believed we were integral to supporting some of these suppliers in India, and therefore directly or indirectly had a responsibility,” she said. “There are a lot of huge external challenges, but I look at them as opportunities for continuous improvement and that drive to demonstrate that we are taking it seriously.”

In the same session, Kyoung Lim, Senior Director of Supply Chain Management at Samsung Biologics said it was important for companies to have a risk management process in place and to regularly evaluate and rate both existing and potential supply chain risks.

“Once you’ve done that, you identify your mitigation plan – it has to encompass all the relevant stakeholders within your company,” she said. “You have to have a cross-functional team to develop this plan. This would be led by Supply Chain but you need to make sure you have your Quality Management and Quality Control counterparts involved.”