Life sciences companies accelerate digital transformation initiatives in response to COVID supply chain challenges

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The list of industries that have had to overcome significant and prolonged supply chain challenges as a result of the global pandemic is long, but perhaps nowhere have the stakes been higher than in the life sciences sector, where shortages and delays can be a life-or-death proposition.

In March 2020, with a deadly and still poorly understood respiratory virus spreading rapidly around the globe, medical professionals began sounding the alarm about a severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition to N95 respirators, doctors, nurses and other essential health care workers desperately needed face shields, gowns, gloves and other specialized medical equipment to protect themselves from infection as hospitals began filling up with COVID patients. With these items in short supply, many health care workers had to make do with whatever they could get their hands on, while others had to continue to treat people with no protective equipment whatsoever.

The shortage directly resulted in many thousands of front-line health care workers around the world becoming infected with the virus. In the first year of the pandemic, more than 3,600 healthcare workers in the US died from COVID-19, and many of these deaths can be traced to infection caused by lack of PPE.

While a lack of emergency preparedness on the part of many national governments played a significant role in the PPE crisis, supply chain disruption was also a major contributing factor. At the time, China produced approximately half of the world’s medical-grade face masks, including N95 masks. When the SARS-CoV-2 virus began spreading throughout China, lockdowns were imposed and the production and export of these items effectively ground to a halt.

Life sciences companies continue to grapple with supply chain challenges

The PPE shortage has long been resolved, but the same basic scenario has played out dozens of times since in the life sciences industry. In the early days of the pandemic, production shutdowns in plants that produce active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and drug substances (DS) resulted in some initial delays, but manufacturers were able to put measures in place to prevent this from being an ongoing issue. Demand spikes throughout the pandemic, however, have worsened a decade-long shortage of many life-saving drugs, including tocilizumab, a targeted anti-inflammatory drug used for chemotherapy and the treatment of COVID-19 patients, inhalers used to treat asthma, as well as various blood pressure medications. Pharmacists have even experienced a shortage of the vials used to put medication in. When faced with these shortages, hospitals and pharmacies have to do whatever they can to make sure those most in need get the right drugs.

Manufacturers of high-tech medical devices used to diagnose, treat and protect patients are also dealing with a variety of ongoing supply chain issues. A global semiconductor shortage, for example, is disrupting the production of everything from sleep apnea machines and ventilators to defibrillators, implantable pacemakers, blood glucose monitors and portable ultrasound devices. Because the greatest demand is for second- and third-generation chips, the medtech industry is in direct competition with the automotive, industrial and consumer industries, a scenario which is further exacerbating the situation.

To make matters worse, the medtech industry is also dealing with the fallout from a shortage of resin, a raw material used in the production of numerous medical devices, including stents and grafts, heart valves, bioelectrodes and biosensors, drug delivery systems, MRI machines, etc.

Whether it’s a shortage of chips or resin used to deliver critical medical devices, or a delay in the delivery of the ingredients used to manufacture life-saving drugs, these supply chain issues place the health of millions of patients at risk.

Life sciences companies are accelerating digital transformation initiatives

In response to the difficulties of the pandemic and the reality of their current supply chain challenges, many of the leading players in the life sciences industry have begun to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives in an effort to optimize their supply chains. The experience of the pandemic has made them recognize more than ever the need to increase their agility, mitigate risk and provide better services to their customers, who rely on their goods to live healthy lives.

One life sciences company that is forging ahead with its digital supply chain transformation is Ipsen, a biopharmaceutical innovator that produces drugs to treat oncology, neurology and rare diseases. After conducting an in-depth analysis of its existing supply chain capabilities, the company determined that its ultimate goal from a supply chain perspective should be to never stock out. To achieve this goal, Ipsen knew it had to improve the responsiveness of its supply chain and reduce lead times. A key pillar of its supply chain transformation strategy was to deploy Kinaxis RapidResponse®, which is helping the company increase end-to-end supply chain visibility, refine forecasting and improve responsiveness by implementing a pyramid approach to stockouts that uses a real-time alert system.

To learn more about how Ipsen is transforming its digital supply chain, watch the webinar Customer service revolution: Ipsen's digital supply chain transformation.

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