The importance of ‘Supply Chain Integrity’ in ‘Global Supply Chain Management (GSCM)’ process

Since the last decade with increasing pace of change, mostly in the western world has accelerated the globalization process in the Pharmaceutical Industry across the world. The key drivers to these changes are as follows:

1. A large number of patent expiration hugely impacting the top-line growth
2. Research pipeline is drying-up
3. The cost of bringing a new molecule from ‘the mind to market’ has now touched around US $ 1.75 billion
4. Regulatory requirement to get the marketing approval is getting more and more stringent, basically for patients’ safety, making clinical development more expensive and time consuming
5. Cost containment measures of various governments around the world is putting an immense pressure on product price, significantly affecting the profit margin

Changing Business Process:

All these factors are triggering other sets of consequential strategic events of enormous significance. Among those, following key corporate strategic steps indeed stand out:

1. More mergers and acquisitions of various size and scale to achieve both revenue and cost synergy, with new products and newer types of resources

2. Transformation in the fundamental operating models, e.g. R&D focused companies like Pfizer, GSK, sanofi aventis are extending their business interest in the pharmaceutical generics space, as well

3. Increasing globalization process and more focus on the emerging markets of the world like, Brazil, Russia, India, China, Turkey, Mexico

4. Growing emphasis on partnering, as we see in India, like for example, between Pfizer and Aurobindo, Claris and Biocon, GSK with Dr. Reddy’s Lab (DRL), AstraZeneca with Torrent, sanofi aventis with Zydus Cadila etc.

5. Global outsourcing in the ‘Contract Research and Manufacturing Services (CRAMs)’’ space

Increasing importance of GSCM:

In today’s evolving scenario, Global Supply Chain Management (GSCM) process has assumed a key importance. The need to reduce costs significantly and minimize the risks associated with the procurement activities of the business, have compelled many innovator companies to extend the activities of their Supply Chain management process to the Global arena, instead of just confining to the local space.

The changing requirements of all hues and types in various areas of the business, like in sales and marketing, manufacturing, research and development etc., have created a challenging, if not a rather volatile operating environment.

Such an evolving scenario will make the GSCM to increasingly play a key role in the overall business process of an organization to ensure that the right products are available at the right place, at the right time, at a right price and following the right processes…Always.

Emerging GSCM hubs:

There is at the same time, a new trend emerging to provide world class outsourcing services, especially from countries like India and China. These initiatives, which in turn will make these two countries the key global outsourcing hubs, are definitely not due to just cost arbitrage. It encompasses increased integrated value proposition for the overseas customers. Cost is just one of the key factors, others being quality, speed and suppliers’ integrity and reliability. Nothing in this value chain is mutually exclusive. GSCM will need to go through a set of complex algorithms to strike a right balance between all these vital parameters.

Importance of GSCM integrity:

In the days to come by, one of the greatest challenges in GSCM will be to improve the supply chain integrity and security. An appropriate definition of integrity for supply chains could be:

“…the requirement that the system performs its intended function in an unimpaired manner, free from deliberate or inadvertent manipulation.”

A safe and secure supply chain is definitely not a new requirement. However, in the list of priority of importance, it has now come up significantly, compared to what it was just a few years back. Though the issue of improving supply chain integrity and security has now assumed global importance, unfortunately, any uniformity in national regulatory requirements for this vital parameter is glaringly missing. Such a lack of regulatory uniformity clearly highlights that the pharmaceutical companies, engaged in manufacturing, are still not aligned with each other on what will be the right way to ensure absolute integrity, safety and security in the supply chain operating process to guarantee patients’ safety.

Globally, many Pharmaceutical Companies are getting engaged in improving supply chain integrity, security and patients’ safety with the introduction RFID. This, as many may know, is an inventory tracking system for improved product traceability, which in turn extends some protection to its customers with genuine products from the genuine pharmaceutical manufacturers. It is worth noting that RFID is just one component of overall patients’ safety initiative.

Along with high tech measures like RFID, to improve supply chain integrity, I reckon, pharmaceutical companies will need to further enhance their respective ‘supplier qualification process’. The process of supplier audits should include all important and critical areas of manufacturing, testing and quality, related to each individual product.

Stringent supplier qualification standard is of prime importance:

Only a stringent supplier qualification process will be able to guarantee integrity, safety and the quality of outsourced products from the suppliers.

An example of a GSCM related tragedy:

Before I conclude, I would like reinforce my recommendation with the example of the ‘Heparin tragedy’ where the supply chain integrity was violated and seriously challenged thereafter.

In the beginning of 2008, there were media reports on serious adverse drug events, some even fatal, with Heparin, a highly-sulfated glycosaminoglycan of Baxter International. Heparin is widely used as an injectable anticoagulant. Baxter voluntarily recalled almost all their Heparin products in the U.S. Around 80 people died from contaminated Heparin products in the U.S. The US FDA reported that such contaminated Heparin was detected from at least 12 other countries.

A joint investigation conducted by Baxter and the US FDA ascertained that the Heparin used in batches associated with the serious adverse drug events was contaminated with over sulfated chondroitin sulfate (OSCS). It was reported that his Heparin was supplied to Baxter by Scientific Protein Laboratories, Changzhou, China.

The cost of OSCS is just a fraction of the ingredient used in Heparin. Being driven by the criminal profiteering motive the manufacturers in Changzhou, China had reportedly used OSCS for highly-sulfated glycosaminoglycan as the former could not be detected by the pharmacopeia test in use, until 2008. This is because OSCS mimics Heparin in the pharmacopeia test. Post this criminal event, at present, all over the world more specific pharmacopeia test methods have been adopted for Heparin.


Let us all ensure that such a tragedy does not get repeated in future due to a breach in the supply chain integrity, anywhere in the world…for the patients’ sake.

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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