Pharma supply shortages drive calls for more integrated supply chains

Source: The Loadstar 
Date: 27th June 2023

Drug maker recently sounded the alarm that, by the end of the month, it would run out of a drug to treat bacterial infections in children, as it needed to prioritise versions of the drug for adults.

And another penicillin product, used to treat infections in the upper respiratory tract, may run out of supply in the third quarter.

Drug shortages, notably pain and fever relief for children that saw anxious parents rush to hospitals’ emergency wards, have sparked lawmakers into action.

A report from the US Senate’s homeland security committee noted 295 drug shortages last year, a five-year high. Among them were cancer treatments, emergency room pharmaceuticals, children’s fever medication and antibiotics – more than 15 critical products have been in short supply for over a decade.

Currently, airfreight belly hold capacity out of China, the biggest source of pharmaceuticals and their ingredients are limited but the industry usually can resort to charters if needs be.

It all comes down to priorities (pointing to the movement of vaccines and PPE shipments during the Covid pandemic).

Supply chain visibility is a major issue, the report notes. Unlike the automotive industry, the pharma sector is not very integrated along its supply chains, which has been the biggest stumbling block for efforts to improve visibility.

Not only is the industry hamstrung by a variety of different systems impeding data flow between pharma producers and their suppliers, even manufacturers themselves typically use multiple systems and platforms. This makes efforts to integrate systems and data flows laborious and very time-consuming.

For legislators, the geographic spread of pharma supply chains is another headache. Large numbers of drug and ingredient producers are in China and India whereas the US has limited manufacturing capability on both fronts. By some estimates, China produces over 70% of all antibiotics.

The US government is looking to step up domestic drug production, which it intends to stimulate, in part, through public-private partnerships, and many pharma companies were planning to break ground on new production facilities in the US and increase output.

These developments seemed unlikely to bring significant challenges for supply chains and logistics firms. These companies already have a US presence, temperature-controlled warehousing capacity is no longer extremely tight and the biggest impact should be a rise in temperature-controlled trucking activity.

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