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Event Roundup: Health & Pharma Supply Chain Summit

Find all of the sessions from the FreightWaves Health & Pharma Supply Chain Summit below. Related event links include:

Demand planning in a pandemic

Demand planning is crucial to logistics — and has been extremely difficult amid the pandemic.

According to Andrew Kelley, chief commercial officer of BoxLock, “A lot of people in the supply chain think about demand planning as a process of collecting all of the forecasts they can get their hands on so they have a downstream view of what’s going to need to be manufactured upstream. But last year it was almost impossible to demand plan for shortages that were persisting around toilet paper, then PPE, then reagents for diagnostics labs, and then of course more recently, with the vaccine itself.”

Kelly and John Ervin, owner of Allnet Coaching and Consulting, discussed how demand planning for vaccinations has been complicated by the voluntary nature of vaccinations, differences among states on the order of vaccinations and other issues.

Ervin concluded, “When I think about the key of this last 12 months with the pandemic, the example I use is an iceberg. We have been looking at the tip of the iceberg. We’ve been in reactionary phases. But over time, as we’ve had these lessons learned, we’ve begun looking below the tip of the iceberg. “And what we’re learning in the public health-care industry is that we can’t predict demand. We can’t even predict supply. So we have to put in processes and systems to adapt on the fly — in real time.

“The pandemic put us in a situation that is going to improve our ability to adapt and modify — from a logistics standpoint, to not just have plan A but also plan B, C and D. Plan A is not always going to be possible. That’s the lesson we’ve learned in the health-care industry.” Greg Miller

Is the world up to the challenge of mass COVID-19 vaccination?

COVID-19 vaccine distribution faces many challenges, including its stringent temperature requirements, significant airfreight shortages due to grounded passenger flights, security issues, last-mile logistics and communication troubles with scheduling vaccine appointments for patients. 

These are some of the topics Malte Hans, associate partner at McKinsey & Company Inc., and Margi Van Gogh, head of supply chain and transport at the World Economic Forum, discussed.

Van Gogh said that industrialized countries have greater capacity for vaccine procurement and distribution. The Global South has to overcome more issues with road networks, lack of communication, power grid overloads and temperature control, she added.

“The private sector [and] the industrialized economies need to stand together to also support the Global South in getting these vaccines,” Hans agreed. He said that collaborations and data sharing worldwide greatly increase the chances and speed to defeat the coronavirus. 

Though there are many challenges to overcome, Van Gogh said, “the alignment between the private and public sector have certainly given us some early gains.” Hans concluded that vaccine appointment scheduling will become easier in the next few months and newer vaccines with less strict temperature requirements will alleviate some of the pressure currently on supply chains. Alyssa Sporrer

Pharma already benefiting from blockchain and DLT solutions

Ask Susanne Somerville if enterprise blockchain is a futile idea within the pharmaceutical industry, and the response will be a resounding “no.”

Enterprise blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) enable participating pharmaceutical companies to work together on decentralized, electronic databases. Somerville is CEO of Chronicled, a company that provides enterprise blockchain solutions to the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries. Chronicled manages the MediLedger Network, which the company describes as an industry-led, blockchain-powered network that seeks to facilitate trust and enable automation between trading partners.

Speaking with Patrick Duffy, president of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), during a fireside chat, Somerville said, “The good news is that we’ve demonstrated to the industry that the technology is ready and that the solution is in production and running today and can pass their IT requirements. So all that’s left is to figure out business problems that need to be solved and bring these companies together to do that.”

The impetus for establishing DLT solutions in the U.S. occurred when a law passed in 2013 that required the pharmaceutical industry to put a unique serial number on every box of medicine sold and to make that database interoperable within a specified time frame, according to Somerville. The goal of this effort is to track and trace prescription medicine and guard against suspect products. 

“It was really that law, and the industry’s need to start figuring out how to be interoperable, that happened at the exact time that this thing called blockchain was getting much more notice in the world,” Somerville explained. 

Enterprise blockchain solutions can often involve “coopetition,” or collaborative competition. But the benefit of working through common issues is that individual companies can come back to their companies and see how they need to strengthen their companies’ systems architecture or revise their firewall policies. 

“My plug for people to get involved is, going through a project makes you aligned with the questions that you didn’t know you needed to ask,” Somerville said. — Joanna Marsh

How Israel got COVID-19 vaccine distribution right

As the U.S. ramps up distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Israel offers a powerful example for how a country can get it right. Nearly 40% of the population had already received a vaccine as of Tuesday.

“Israel is way ahead of the curve,” PowerFleet (NASDAQ: PWFL) CEO Chris Wolfe said during a firechat chat with FreightWaves Chief Strategy Officer JT Engstrom. PowerFleet, a technology company that provides an array of asset-tracking solutions for the transportation and logistics sector, is supporting Israel’s COVID-19 response, including vaccine distribution, through its subsidiaries in the country. 

Israel, of course, is a lot smaller than the U.S., with its 9 million people living in an area slightly larger than New Jersey. But it also benefits from a nationalized health system and importantly, Wolfe said, a response tightly coordinated by the central government. Despite the key differences, Wolfe argued that the U.S. can still draw from Israel’s playbook.

“At the state level, with our government’s help, we could be doing the same thing,” Wolfe said. Nate Tabak

US-China trade relations and pharmaceutical imports

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a very important juncture in the United States-China relationship, said Jonathan Ward, president and founder of the Atlas Organization.

“You already had essentially the deterioration of U.S.-China trade relations,” Ward said. “Then suddenly COVID-19 goes across the world, right in the aftermath of a new U.S.-China trade deal, sort of a new footing on U.S. strategy towards China. Now the pandemic has disrupted so many things since then.”

Ward chatted with FreightWaves President George Abernathy about “U.S.-China trade relations and pharmaceutical imports.”

The Atlas Organization provides advisory services to leaders and strategists in business, government and finance on U.S.-China global competition. Ward is an internationally recognized expert on Chinese global strategy and U.S.-China relations. He also is the author of a new book, “China’s Vision of Victory.” 

Ward said the pandemic showed just how much China has strengthened as a manufacturing and industrial power over the decades. 

“What we really need is to ensure that America is a leader not only in the pharma industry, medical innovation, but also in production and the ability to manufacture products ourselves,” Ward said. “That was one of the key points in what COVID-19 taught the U.S., is that we have giant gaps in our industrial base.” –– Noi Mahoney 

CRST champions safe, efficient transport of pharmaceuticals

Health is something Chad Brueck, president of expedited solutions at CRST, knows is a valuable asset. He is a marathon runner, fitness enthusiast and a newly minted group fitness instructor and that discipline translates into good business practices.

Brueck handles truckload hauling of pharmaceutical products with CRST and has seen the industry shift during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brueck said CRST is focused on working with each of its clients to deliver products in the safest, most controlled way possible. 

“The process is the process” for hauling vaccines and there has not been any big differences with trucks carrying the vaccine, Brueck said. “We’ve been doing this for 25 years and we’re well equipped to handle this safely and securely,” he said, citing continued use of locked trailers and escorted loads. 

For the future, CRST is aiming for increased partnerships with vendors and customers to guarantee streamlined processes. With one common end goal of successful delivery, Brueck said he is always questioning: “Where are the potential failure points and how do we eliminate them?” Kaylee Nix

 Leveraging real-time data to navigate the pharmaceutical supply chain

There has never been a more important time for data collaboration and establishing a single source of truth as critical COVID-19 vaccines, which must be stored at specific temperatures, make their way throughout the global supply chain.

Scott Sangster, vice president of global sales of Descartes Systems Group, and Andrew Cox, senior research analyst at FreightWaves, discussed the importance of real-time visibility and the fragility of the pharmaceutical supply chain.

“Everyone’s probably more aware of it nowadays than they were a year and a half ago but obviously … the condition of the goods from the temperature-controlled environment … become much more critical,” Sangster said. 

Cox asked how Sangster’s company is addressing damages, theft and counterfeit goods during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the core of it all is really the value of the goods and the higher the value of the goods, the more likely there’s going to be some tampering or theft or loss during the process,” Sangster said. “Depending on the manufacturers that are doing the distribution, they’ve taken over larger pieces of some of the responsibilities to ensure end-to-end visibility compliance.” Clarissa Hawes

Global IT platform needed to optimize vaccine distribution

Outbound transportation of COVID-19 vaccines to local administration centers has gone smoothly since December by all accounts, but properly allocating the correct amounts, tracking inventories and identifying who is getting which type of vaccine has been difficult.

The bottom line is fewer people are getting vaccinated quickly. 

Supply chain expert Wolfgang Lehmacher says a big information technology initiative is now needed to provide the necessary visibility from the pharmaceutical manufacturer all the way down to distribution hubs and dosing sites, such as pharmacies, to optimize decision-making and get shots in arms.

Lehmacher is a former head of supply chain and transport industries for the World Economic Forum. He also held top management positions within the French postal service and express delivery company TNT and currently advises investors, startups and corporations on technologies that can improve supply chain efficiency.

“We should invest in a kind of enterprise resource planning system, one platform for the global vaccination distribution, that can be used for other purposes such as natural disasters,” he said.

“That would help to increase the transparency and take the fears out of the equation because we know exactly what are the quantities that are produced, what is in transit, what sits in hospitals and what sits in warehouses of the military. And that transparency would give us the flexibility to make better decisions,” Lehmacher said. 

The system would pull data from manufacturing, warehouse management, transportation management and hospital systems and be supported by sophisticated analytics that could identify potential issues, such as areas of high demand and logistics bottlenecks.

Manufacturers, logistics providers, hospitals, suppliers and other parties should be required to register and share their data so planners have a full picture of the immunization process, Lehmacher said. Amazon, the largest operation of cloud data storage, would be an ideal candidate to support a global ERP system for COVID vaccines, he said. Eric Kulisch

Following the XPO playbook key lesson in vaccine distribution

After months of delivering everything from personal protective equipment (PPE) to baby formula and military meals ready to eat (MRE) to frontline health care workers, XPO Logistics experts needed only to follow the company playbook when COVID-19 vaccine distribution began.

“We didn’t actually have to make any specific changes to our network,” Katrina Liddell, president of Global Forwarding and Expedite at the third-party logistics provider, told FreightWaves Executive Publisher Kevin Hill. “It was more about the best way to inject the product into the network.”

With pharmaceutical movement experience, XPO’s trailer visibility is critical.

“We can stay ahead of the trend of being able to have eyes on every truck, eyes in every trailer and be able to mitigate any situation that would harm or damage the product,” she said. “We know at all times if there is anything that changes that would affect the condition of the product.” 

Trailer security is imperative. Driver teams tell no one other than the shipper and the contractor what they are hauling. Someone always stays with the trailer, which is preconditioned before a load of vaccines is moved. 

“These are all industry best practices,” she said. “These are things that people in pharmaceutical practice on a regular basis. We’ve seen the whole industry come together to prioritize getting any kind of PPE, anything related to the vaccine, out as quickly and safely as possible.” –– Alan Adler

Advantages of using integrated solutions for health supply chains

In this session, Dooner and Michael “The Dude” Vincent host a live session of WHAT THE TRUCK?!? with Danny Loe, president of asset-light logistics and chief yield officer with ArcBest. 

ArcBest has been instrumental in expediting health and pharmacy supply chains by using integrated solutions combined with ArcBest’s individual owned assets. Loe said every customer in the logistics world has different needs and requires different solutions to get freight moved in an effective manner. 

ArcBest has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 2007, so it was well equipped to jump into action providing support as the pandemic accelerated. The company has “high-security, high-safety trailers,” says Loe which are essential when transporting valuable and delicate goods. 

Loe said while ArcBest hasn’t directly handled any vaccine shipments, the company has handled vaccine support supplies and other necessities for health care supply chains. When it comes to possible virus surges, Loe said ArcBest is definitely better prepared than at the start of the pandemic. — Kaylee Nix

Diversification key to the medical supply chain

The pandemic has proven that diversification throughout the supply chain is the key to avoiding disruption. That was the insight provided by Todd Fagley, founder and CEO of MedSource Labs, during a chat with FreightWaves’ John Kingston.

Fagley said his company did a great job responding to the medical crisis, shifting from a product lineup of devices to primarily becoming a frontline PPE provider. MedSource is a manufacturer of medical equipment and specializes in the development of infusion treatment products.

The company sources most production components from overseas markets. MedSource took a “war room” approach to procurement in the beginning of the pandemic, which included a significant increase in preplanning its transportation needs along with a bigger reliance on airfreight. The company was initially forced to move 90% of product through the air as it was getting a year’s worth of demand every month. Normally, MedSource is accustomed to moving 90% of its freight by ocean. The usage of airfreight still remains elevated as port congestion and a container shortage drag on.

The company had a diversified procurement strategy prior to COVID but plans to continue to expand its sourcing footprint to include more regions around the world and lessen its exposure to Southeast Asia. Fagley said these efforts have been “supercharged” following the outbreak. MedSource is also bringing on more supply chain staff as it looks to build out its distribution network. Fagley said near-shoring domestically remains difficult due to heightened regulation and that policy changes need to be adopted to make it more feasible. “It’s a great idea. We would love to do everything here to support our people here in our country but it’s a global world until we can really get that mindset set from a policy standpoint all the way through.” Todd Maiden

Pharma distribution requires intense focus on supply chain visibility

Product exposure, contamination, theft – these are the concerns of every manager in the pharmaceutical and health care industry, which makes supply chain visibility in this sector that much more critical.

“When you’re moving from raw material suppliers through manufacturing and distribution to the end customer, you have to make sure that all the links in the supply chain are clean and that there are mitigation plans in place when required,” said Glenn Koepke, senior vice president of customer success at FourKites, which specializes in supply chain tracking.

Speaking during a fireside chat with FreightWaves Executive Publisher Kevin Hill, Koepke noted that the delicate nature of pharmaceuticals requires a more intense focus on visibility – importantly now as it applies to COVID-19 vaccine distribution. But products moving through the pharma and health care supply chain also include very fragile hospital equipment as well, which is why network planning is at the core of visibility in this industry, he said.

“For many sectors we do planning at the lane level, but in [pharma/health care] it’s on a lane and product level. So the idea of network command centers is very common within this segment because you have to have a set group of resources to allow you to diagnose where the errors are.”

If he had a crystal ball for major trends in this sector for the next three to five years, Koepke said he would bet on increased leveraging of artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with a less “archaic” approach to collaboration. “The question of whether a truck will arrive on time can take 20 calls or emails across a day or two, but it’s a question that should take less than 30 seconds to solve,” he said. “What we see with our customers right now is investing heavily in collaboration, which means I have one platform to talk to an end supplier, customer and carrier.” John Gallagher

Kaylee Nix

Kaylee Nix is a meteorologist and reporter for FreightWaves. She joined the company in November of 2020 after spending two years as a broadcast meteorologist for a local television channel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Kaylee graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2018 and immediately made the Tennessee Valley her home. Kaylee creates written summaries of FreightWaves live podcasts and cultivates the social media for FreightWaves TV.