Assume our business is always about the patient. That was how Michael Schmidt, co-founder and executive board member of Tenthpin Management Consultants, introduced a panel of clinical supply chain experts who shared their thoughts about where the industry was headed during a recent SAP life sciences event. Their conversation reflected the future of life sciences as they discussed their experiences getting closer to partners, gaining clinical supply chain efficiencies, and extracting business results from technology investments.
Life sciences organizations have become highly networked entities, collaborating much more broadly across intelligent clinical supply chains for resiliency and agility in treatment development, clinical trials, and patient care.
Speed up new medicines with deeper partner collaboration
In many ways, pharmaceutical companies are changing how they co-innovate with the contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) that provide them with drug development and manufacturing services. David Volk, executive director of clinical supply chain at Roche, said the next generation of solutions in the life sciences industry won’t be solved by individual companies, but by working together.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that if we have 300 customers, we have 300 different ways of getting requests,” said Volk. “There’s value in standardizing industry-wide processes for greater efficiencies, and that’s the next step we, as an industry, have to solve.”
As one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Volk said that Roche is focused on speed and agility, delivering the next generation of innovative therapeutics for patients.
“We are moving in the direction of supply networks, including the number of companies we’re working with to give or receive products for use in clinical trials,” he said. “We are a networked organization…collaborating much more broadly across all of our partners and the industry. We view ourselves as a supply chain organization, and a significant part of the value we bring to patients lies in optimizing our global supply chain and inventory. That’s a very different mindset, and it’s changed how we run the organization.”
Digitally transforming for business value
While technology advancements are powering life sciences innovations, proven business case justifications remain the best way to distinguish signals from noise.
“What keeps me awake as a clinical supply professional is balancing reliability with the amount of volatility and undisciplined clinical development,” said Patrick McLaughlin, global head of clinical trial supply at CSL Behring. “There’s so much change, and organizations need to minimize the impact of volatility while ensuring a more agile, faster, and responsive supply chain…The biggest element is can I get the functionality that will solve the problem and do it in a way that’s financially justified…at the same time, you need time to innovate.”
Agreeing that cultural change was a major obstacle to digital transformation, McLaughlin added that organizations needed to carve out time for innovation, stepping back to make sure people understood the benefits of change for them.
Technology can address the life sciences talent shortage
Pharmaceutical companies are facing a shortage of experienced clinical supply chain professionals as longtime employees retire and innovations accelerate. Volk said that some organizations have reported up to 50% churn in the project management space. Continuous skill development is crucial.
“We assume that a new clinical supply manager won’t add value in their first six months while they’re being trained,” said Volk. “It’s important to keep people engaged and be thoughtful about the next generation of talent development, bringing in people who are constantly learning new skills. The industry needs to make sure there’s a diverse talent pool to support growth as people retire.”
At CSL Behring, McLaughlin said they were hiring more technology-savvy employees and finding people with complementary skills. Volk picked up the standardization thread again, noting that developing employee knowledge and skills was a number one priority in the rapidly evolving life sciences field.
“We can talk about technology, processes, and best practices, but success comes down to individuals and the talent they bring,” he said. “Every day, I receive questions and rely on answers from my team of experts who understand the business. They’re passionate, collaborative, and innovative, and they really care, working together to find solutions…Standardizing and automating processes…means that we have individuals who aren’t spending time on repetitive systems work like spreadsheet calculations and querying reports. Instead, they’re focused on learning and sharing their knowledge.”
Look to the future of life sciences
Schmidt urged organizations across life sciences to replace historical views with an eye to the future, innovating business in a more connected environment.
“Too often people are looking back at the experiences they’ve had in the past 10 years, instead of envisioning what they’ll need in the next three to four years,” he said. “Personalized therapy is one example, where companies invested in SAP for their ERP backbone, and are undergoing tremendous transformation, deriving greater value from these treatments with changed product planning, production, and shipment strategies.”
Whether it’s investments in people, technology, or co-innovation, the life sciences industry can increase efficiencies that help more patients faster. After all, the purpose of innovation is to support the health and wellbeing of people.