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Pharma’s supply chain prepares for the ‘next normal’ in a post-COVID-19 world

15 Jun 2020

Supply chain executives request greater visibility and transparency, especially at the supplier and manufacturer level.

By now, it is evident that the current coronavirus pandemic will affect all of pharma. Patients, employees, partners and businesses will continue to feel its effects for a long while yet. The coming weeks and months will be recognized as the transition from a world 'before' and 'after' COVID-19.

The virus and its fallout will continue to test the pharmaceutical supply chain at every point. From supplier to dispenser, COVID-19 has challenged the industry business models, outpaced its best forecasts, and elicited new and unexpected behaviors in the market.

As markets continue to respond to the crisis, companies and consumers are working hard to make sense of a rapidly changing and uncertain situation and to understand the steps needed to adapt to this 'next normal'.

With a network approaching 300,000 members, TraceLink has unique insight into the global digital supply chain. Since the crisis began, the company has been maintaining an ongoing dialogue with prominent users across the healthcare supply chain, many positioned along the frontlines of the pandemic fight.

"It has been impressive to see that all along the supply chain, the front-line companies we spoke to all have a solid grasp of the situation, implementing a rapid, real-time re-prioritization and mobilization of resources and critical staff," said Shabbir Dahod, CEO, TraceLink.

The challenges presented by COVID-19 to the industry are significant; the majority of its workforce remains remote, information technologies and networks are being pushed to their limits, reliable sources are going offline, critical ingredients are in short supply, 3-month inventories are turning into shortages and shipments are being diverted, postponed or canceled.

"Our customers are quickly transitioning from formulating a theoretical response to a disrupted supply chain to delivering a practical response. The immediate transparency provided by their early transition to a patient-driven digital supply chain is helping our network members and their supply chain partners to cope," continued Dahod.

COVID-19 will define the industry's 'next normal'. The pandemic has revealed critical gaps in how vital information about suppliers, medicines, and equipment is captured and communicated. Supply chain executives point to the need for greater visibility and transparency, especially at the supplier and manufacturer level. They also call for more real-time data to make faster, more accurate decisions, which will then enable them to respond quickly to face the unknown and unexpected.

As the pandemic progresses, and the industry experiences increasing ingredient and product shortages, several companies have needed to find alternative sources, transportation routes, and distribution solutions quickly. The 'next normal', therefore, will likely involve companies testing new scenarios that balance business sustainability and growth with crisis management to mitigate unexpected and significant supply disruptions.

During this pandemic, the industry is seeing the first major test of a supply chain in transition; many companies are now digitalizing their supply chain operations. According to Dahod, supply chain agility, visibility and transparency are now among the highest priorities for pharmaceutical companies and their healthcare customers.

All of healthcare, including patients, are extremely concerned about disruptions to the upstream supply chain and any eventual impact on critical supplies and equipment.

"We can’t lose sight of our shared responsibility for securing the global supply chain," said Dahod. He explained that several TraceLink customers have experienced difficulty in maintaining their regulatory processes under pressure. "Whatever the situation or disruption, patient safety should never be sacrificed; the industry must work together to ensure critical medicines are available where and when they are needed."

According to Dahod, as the industry transitions from a pre, to a post-COVID-19 world, the need to re-assess supply chain models and accelerate digital supply chain initiatives has never been clearer.

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