How COVID-19 is making pharma more resilient

How securing supply in a time of crisis will ensure future access, build resilience, and transform relationships.

Since the start of the year, pharmaceutical companies have been riding a rollercoaster of challenges as the various strands came together to threaten supply chains.

First, we saw a doubling or tripling of the usual demand for products. At the same point, there were big worries about supply chains in China.

Then, as we went further into the crisis, there were some almost protectionist moves in some countries, as they placed or considered export bans on active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Navigating this rapidly evolving landscape presented a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

The industry always has business continuity plans in the drawer. But never in recent history have we had to pull out strategies for so many products and subsidiaries at the same time and put them into place.

Daily calls with supply chain colleagues, activating second sources and alternative supply chains, along with strategic API and finished product stockpiling, all contributed to the absence of any major disruptions.

The crisis is also a reminder of the purpose of a company: to provide and pioneer access to the patient.

As an industry, we will have to be more honest with ourselves. We’ll be much better able to see where we have a really deliverable message and when we elicit a response, rather than measuring it by the time people spend with the customer.

Remote pharma

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way all sectors work on a day-to-day basis, but pharma did not have the luxury of time in allowing these changes to bed in.

Within a week, millions of employees had to be transitioned from office to remote working, and the biggest challenge was the interaction with customers. But, in the end, that too turned out to be an opportunity.”

Before the pandemic, pharma companies were reaching around 15% of their customers digitally, but that has now increased to around 75%.

As people adjusted to connecting digitally, through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other video-based software, in their private lives, this expanded into their professional lives.

Traditionally, the way we interact with our customers has been a big barrier to conveying messages, particularly in off-patent pharma, and while using digital channels will not necessarily be easier, it will make companies think differently about how best to interact with healthcare professionals.

The key question we need to ask ourselves is if we have more access to physicians, how do we want to use it? More reach? More efficiency? How should we complement or even replace the traditional channels, and how we can reach customers we haven’t reached so far?

As the industry moves from a face-to-face to a digital communication model, it needs a change of mindset.

A physical person showing up in a physical office is the old normal, as an industry, we will have to be a bit more honest with ourselves. We’ll be much better able to see where we get access, where we have a really deliverable message, and when we elicit a response or an active request for follow-up, rather than measuring it by the time people spend with the customer.

Resilient future

Another change that is here to stay is the increased communication and collaboration between industry and policy makers.

This is, in part, thanks to a greater appreciation of the importance of resilient supply chains.

Over the last 30 years, the volume of products produced in Europe versus Asia has flipped. The majority of APIs and an increasing share of FDF is currently being manufactured in Asia. This was driven, particularly in generics, by price.

The balance we need to keep in mind is cost, quality, and resilient supply. You can optimize all three, but you can only maximize two at the same time.

If you can go for the highest quality and resilient supply, you will have to pay a higher cost, or you do it the other way around – of course, we never want to compromise on quality.”

Supply chain issues during the pandemic have brought this argument into sharp focus, and it is now “on the radar” at an international level.

Ultimately, 2020 has been a challenging time for pharma, but it has also presented a myriad of opportunities to learn and evolve.

COVID-19 has highlighted how we transform the way the industry works – from manufacturing and supply chains to sales and detailing – in a way that ensures everyone can access the high-quality, affordable medicines they need to live happier, healthier lives.



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