Industry Voices—Pharmaceutical supply chain adjustments to outlast COVID-19

During the coronavirus pandemic, many of us adjusted to the new “normal.”  At PCI Pharma Services, we were already in the process of a digital transformation, and the COVID-19 crisis served as an opportunity to accelerate what we had started.  

We are looking at the new ways of doing business—digitally and otherwise—and asking ourselves, what changes should we keep for the long term? How can we continue to provide outstanding service to our clients, based on what we have learned?

Shortening the distance

The supply chain over the last 10 years has become more global. During the pandemic, we needed to bring more of this work back to North America to simplify transportation and logistics requirements. Shortening the distance in the supply chain expedites deliveries and lessens room for complicating factors, like customs clearance. We expect more of our clients to shift to localize. 

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Preparing the supply

Forecasting and locking down materials might have to change from a three-month supply back to a six-month supply to ensure there is never a shortage. In the past, companies have tried to keep inventory trim to save on storage costs and free up their cash, but the pandemic has shown us that product on shelves ready to sell may be better than unused cash sitting in the bank. We don’t know what the fall will bring in terms of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. 

Living in a virtual world

As we adjusted to working remotely and social distancing, we looked for efficient ways to operate virtually. For the first time, we started doing virtual site audits. They went so smoothly, we want to use this as a future model. Face-to-face meetings turned virtual, and we were pleasantly surprised at how effective this was for our business. It’s making us more open-minded about how we source talent—for certain roles, it means we aren’t limited to the locations where we have operations, but we can hire people regardless of geography and simply focus on hiring the best people.

We also fast-tracked our plans to develop direct-to-patient clinical trial capabilities. In a pandemic, you must be clever to see how you can do a study without bringing people together at a trial site. This model certainly provides flexibility and could also be more financially viable for our clients.

RELATED: Hospitals employ lessons learned in load balancing, supply chain as COVID-19 cases surge

Embracing new technology

Interfacing with our clients is changing. There are manual operations we use with clients that we are streamlining via digitization. We are seeing e-signatures, virtual meetings, or new platforms and tools becoming a part of the new norm; we are asking our teams and clients to embrace the new technology we put in place. 

Being bold

As we come out on the other side of this pandemic, we must learn to retire old paradigms, both systems and policies, that are simply no longer valid. We have proven we can adapt to new ways of working and remain reliable and professional. So, let’s take more chances. This is how innovation happens.

In summary, while the pandemic has had a massive impact on human health, it renewed our sense of purpose and presented an opportunity to leverage changes already underway so we can better serve patients. More broadly, I believe it helped improve the supply chain industry for the better. This is the silver lining.

Brad Payne is the chief operating officer of PCI Pharma Services, a leading pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical global outsourcing solutions provider.