While many pharmaceutical companies have invested millions to develop and market medicines more efficiently, they’ve invested relatively little effort in reconfiguring their manufacturing and distribution operations, according to a new report, Supplying the Future: Which path will you take?, released by PwC US.
According to this report, most pharma companies have complex supply chains that are under-utilized and inefficient. Worse still, they are ill-equipped to cope with the sort of products that are coming down the pipeline. By 2020, many of the medicines the industry makes will be specialist therapies that require different manufacturing and distribution techniques.
The pharmaceutical supply chain needs a radical overhaul, the report’s authors claim, and they predict it will undergo three key changes over the next decade:
• It will fragment, with different models for different product types and patient segments;
• It will become a means of market differentiation and source of economic value; and
• It will become a two-way street, with information flowing upstream to drive the downstream flow of products and services.
One of the key technologies that will enable the necessary information flows will be cloud computing. It will help these companies share data securely and economically with suppliers around the world, analyze the data more rapidly and respond to sudden changes in supply and demand.
Another key technological capability will employ advanced tracking systems that will enable these companies to monitor products from the factory gate to the patient. This will be crucial as companies manufacture more biologics with high unit values and specialized delivery requirements.
One example of this technology is the “bokode,” a data tag that can hold far more information than a conventional barcode and be read from much further away. DNA labeling could also provide a way of fingerprinting proteins and determining where they have been manufactured. DNA fingerprinting has already been used to identify “counterfeit” foods, the report notes. It cites the work of researchers in Spain who used a technique called forensically informative nucleotide sequencing to test nine commercial seafood samples containing shark meat and isolate those that were incorrectly labeled.