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Oliver Wight EAME Blog

Three disruptive technologies that pharma need to be planning for - now!

19 April 2017

By Gary Connors, Managing Associate at Oliver Wight EAME

At Oliver Wight, we are lucky enough to travel between different companies in the healthcare industry and while we educate and coach senior leaders in the latest business principles and practices we also learn a great deal about the challenges that the industry is facing along with some of the exciting opportunities.

The three examples below show some technological advancements that represents a significant disruption to the way supply chain planning is done in the industry. I think these changes will be disruptive to the paradigm to an extent that we are only now starting to fathom.

You may think that some of these are far-fetched and may never happen; that would be a mistake. Most of the global pharmaceutical clients that we have worked with over the years are actively working on these technologies.

T- Cell Research
What is it?
Traditional medicines are developed through a long process of discovery and trial and error, candidate drugs that make it through this process are then subject to several years of clinical trials and safety test before they are eventually brought to market if they are effective enough. This can take years, typically 7-10 years with a very high attrition rate along the way. T-Cell research takes a person’s own T-Cells and modifies them using a virus to engineer them to fight a specific disease. Your own cells programmed to make you better.

Why you should care?
This technology will dramatically reduce the time to market for new drugs and if you think about it, each drug will be uniquely designed for the patient. Gone are the old paradigms about lead times and inventory. This will require a significant redesign of your supply chain and it’s happening now.

Read about a real-world example here

Wearable technology
What it is?
Not so long ago telephones were for making phone calls, cameras were for taking pictures, watches were for telling the time and computers were for doing more difficult stuff. We have seen these technologies converge into one device that has taken over our lives. Now consider contact lenses, you thought they were only for improving your vision, right? Many pharmaceutical companies are now adapting contact lenses to be able to give you access to the internet right in front of your eyes. With augmented reality, the future of science fiction is being brought into today, quickly.

Why you should care?
Consider now that these contact lenses can be adapted to monitor your vital signs, detect problems, diagnose the cause, determine a treatment and order your medication through your phone without even involving you. Consider what this will mean for the volume, frequency and lead-time of medications being ordered in the future. Is your supply chain agile enough to cope with this?

Read more about it here

Continuous Manufacturing
What is it?
Again, in the old day’s drug substances were manufactured by a chemical reaction taking place in a large reactor and the resulting mixture worked up through a series of purification steps. To get to the final drug substance this process is repeated several times. The result being big, expensive chemical factories and a long and expensive route to finally get to the product. In the future, these chemical reactions will be done continuously rather than in big, inefficient batches. In the future, the process will be complete in minutes rather than weeks. This is happening now.

Why you should care?
Perhaps today you have 7 to 10 big chemical plants in your global Pharma organisation making all the drug substances that go into your products. Relatively large capital investments necessitating relatively large amounts of working capital to keep it all going. In the future, these chemical plants will be tiny by comparison. You will not have 10 you will have hundreds; they may even be portable. They will need no inventory to keep them going and what’s more they will be bespoke for each substance produced. This will significantly reduce both lead time and inventory. Again, supply chain design would need to be completely overhauled.

Read more about it here.


These disruptive technologies are going to creep into your planning horizon very soon.

Are you ready to transform your supply chain?

We are sponsoring LogiPharma on 25th-27th April in Montreux, Switzerland. If you are attending the event, we’d be delighted to discuss the above or any other supply chain issues with you further – visit us on stand #17.