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3 Ways Technology is Transforming the Life Sciences/Healthcare Supply Chain

Regulations may suppress technology uptake in some activities, but here are three ways regs are accelerating technology transformation.

An operator packs a temperature-controlled shipment.
An operator packs a temperature-controlled shipment.

Pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers face a variety of challenges, perhaps the greatest of which is compliance. Since 2013 and the European Commission’s introduction of Good Distribution Practice (GDP) rules, companies have upped prioritization of compliance in order to meet increasingly rigorous life sciences and healthcare standards. In particular, companies must now ensure temperature-controlled shipment for a broader range of products than before, including specialty drugs and biotechnological products.

Technology has a vital role to play here. While regulations have a tendency to suppress technology uptake in many life sciences and healthcare activities—for example, it will still take some time before industry rules allow the 3D printing of skin and body parts using biological matter–they are speeding technology adoption in logistics, transportation and the supply chain. Here are three key ways in which regulations are accelerating technology transformation in the industry.

  1. Real-time tracking

To meet ever-increasing regulatory requirements, many life sciences and healthcare organizations are deploying high-tech solutions that maintain and monitor the end-to-end cold chain for highly sensitive products on their journey through specialist warehouses and distribution centers, and during air, ocean, road, and rail transportation. These solutions employ artificial intelligence and sensors.

To effectively manage a temperature-controlled supply chain, the logistics service provider needs specialized expertise and close collaboration with not just the customer but also all other parties in the supply chain.

Many variables can affect the integrity of a product from the moment it leaves the manufacturing plant until receipt at final destination. For example, even the slightest of temperature excursions between levels at origin, transfer, and destination can cause disaster, as well as unforeseen and unavoidable journey delays.

  1. Risk management solutions

For this reason, more and more pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers are also opting for technology-based risk management solutions. With these, they can assess worst-case scenarios and other “what-ifs,” ensuring robust contingency plans are in place. Any deviation from Plan A can be proactively answered with the best possible Plan B.

Some risk management solutions include sophisticated data analytics to define various risk levels within the supply chain and therefore optimize decision-making about routes, packaging, carriers and more.

  1. Demand prediction capabilities

Big data analytics enable companies to predict not just what can go wrong but also what needs to go right. Logistics service providers can track and generate data on any parameter in the pharma and medical device cold chain—temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, energy consumption, and even an event such as a door opening or closing. Because this data can be transmitted via mobile devices, it means that key processes can be monitored in real time from anywhere in the world.

Now, by using rich analytics algorithms, life sciences and healthcare companies can turn raw data such as this into predictive data, creating not just actionable warnings but also actionable insights and recommendations. These improve storage and handover processes, and prevent cold chain failure before it occurs. They also provide valuable competitive advantage.

What this means in a very practical sense is that new technologies are not only enabling auditable compliance with regulatory requirements but also helping life sciences and healthcare organizations to ensure alignment of logistics and transportation processes with business objectives. Effective analytics enables each company to identify new ways to grow the enterprise with better methods of storing and transporting pharmaceuticals and medical devices, predicting demand and improving inventory management, and getting closer to customers and patients.

Digital transformation is progressing rapidly in logistics, transportation and the supply chain. Life sciences and healthcare companies should seek partners with the knowledge, experience and infrastructure to support them through these changes.

—Scott Allison is President, Life Sciences & Healthcare Sector, DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation

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