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Acute Need for Supply Chain Transparency
Supply chain transparency, or the ability to see into the various levels of the supply chain, is an acute need in the biopharmaceutical industry, largely due to regulatory pressures on manufacturers to protect the quality of the final products they sell to end consumers, according to Bindiya Vakil, CEO and founder of supply chain resiliency solutions firm Resilinc.
FDA and equivalent global organizations regulate drug companies to better understand their sources of supply and thus better control the quality of the final drugs being manufactured and sold to consumers. “Today, most suppliers operate in many different countries and thus have global supply chains. In addition, they often use subcontractors that actually own and operate the factories. This type of complex supply chain structure introduces risk; sub-tier suppliers and subcontractors may not follow the stringent regulatory requirements that govern product quality, which is necessary for protecting the efficacy of drugs,” Vakil notes. Consequently, there is a critical need for biopharma manufacturers to gain and maintain deep knowledge of their direct suppliers and their global and sub-tier dependencies, particularly in situations where drug efficacy can have human life or health consequences.
“Supply chain transparency involves identifying the global supply chain dependencies of all direct suppliers; determining which subcontractors are used; and understanding the customs, norms and issues in the parts of the world where these firms operate and manufacture the various raw materials and ingredients,” Vakil says. The purpose is then to ensure that all of the sites in the full supply chain, including manufacturers providing basic raw materials, comply with regulatory standards around quality as applicable she notes.
To achieve supply chain transparency, biopharma companies need to proactively work with suppliers to map the supply chain in order to proactively identify any dependencies that may create compliance issues, as well as identify sites and companies that may need to be audited.
Three major challenges
Second, biopharma manufacturers must overcome the unwillingness of suppliers to provide full transparency and visibility due to concerns that customers may design them out or use the information to squeeze them for cost savings. The first issue is somewhat alleviated by the fact that a new source would need to go through the FDA approval process, which can take as much as two years, according to Vakil. She notes, however, that while the FDA approval process creates a major barrier against the rapid switching of suppliers, this concern is frequently cited as a reason why suppliers are unwilling to share information with their customers.
The lack of an industry standard around supply chain transparency is the third challenge, and has resulted in the need for each company to create its own methodology and process. “Industry organizations such as BioPhorum, Rx360, and others, will play an important role in addressing this issue,” Vakil says. In fact, these organizations are working together with the FDA to streamline the entire process by developing and publishing a standard that solution providers such as Resilinc can adopt.
Proactive strategies for success
Gaining insights into sub-tier suppliers
A fundamental aspect of Resilinc’s approach has been the creation of a “network effect” in the biopharma industry, which has expanded as more clients and their supply chain partners join the Resilinc platform. “This network effect comes into play quickly,” asserts Vakil, “and each successive new client and supplier derives faster time to value and lower total cost of ownership as they securely, and with their suppliers’ approval, leverage data already existing on the platform.”
In addition, over time the depth and breadth of information on the Resilinc platform increases. Today the company has modules for supply chain visibility at the site, operations, part level, and supplier site level for business continuity planning (BCP), as well as a conflict minerals compliance module and supplier corporate social responsibility (CSR) survey modules.
Amgen’s Executive Director, Supply Chain Patricia Turney mentioned in a recent Supply Chain Brain video that “We see Resilinc as a way to move the entire industry’s collective supply chain forward. With Resilinc, Amgen is able to gain new insights into our sub-tier supply chain that we were unable to see before. And if we do see a potential issue, we have the enhanced intelligence needed to take action before it can impact the company.”
Adds Vakil: “With industry leaders such as Amgen paving the way and actively bringing their suppliers and sub-tier suppliers to the Resilinc platform, the biopharma industry should begin to see the challenges above begin to diminish along with greater transparency and information sharing between supply chain partners.”
Continued need for secure information sharing