The pharmaceutical industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has raised the bar for therapeutic development, with vaccine generation and approval performed in record timeframes.
However, as Linfox General Manager Healthcare, Andrew Mitchell points out, much of the focus on expediting biomedical research begins and ends in the lab, leaving large portions of the value chain ripe for innovation.
Andrew says the focus should extend to pharmaceutical logistics – a move he believes could improve patient compliance and health outcomes.
Patient compliance rates are as low as 18 per cent for some medications, leaving patients vulnerable to a myriad of health complications.
Improving the precision of logistics through data
“Most prescribed medications in Australia are prescribed for chronic diseases, and are therefore consumed consistently with highly predictable demand cycles. Despite this, the industry caters for the possibility of huge peaks and troughs in demand by carrying one year’s worth of inventory on average,” said Andrew ahead of the Bio Connections Australia Conference hosted by Informa Connect.
“Using today’s technologies, we could capture and leverage medication consumption data to drive production and logistics schedules in a very precise way. For example, apps that collect patient data and feed it into an artificial intelligence tool; or wearable devices that monitor vital health data and temporarily link it to medication-taking behaviours.
“For acute disease outbreaks, artificial intelligence could monitor spikes of symptom searches online and use that data to order inventories of relevant medications. This could ensure medications are in the right place at the right time; and that the right inventory never goes out of stock.”
A self-driving supply chain
This kind of innovation is already being used by pharmaceutical companies overseas, and in adjacent sectors, domestically.
In 2019, the United Kingdom implemented an Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), after rigorous testing with more than sixty GP practices.
Under the EPS scheme, medication details can be accessed digitally at any pharmacy using a barcode, removing the need for patients to get repeat prescriptions from their GP. Repeat scripts can also be delivered directly to a patient’s home.
By decreasing prescription administration, the scheme has created efficiencies, minimised errors, and reduced the number of prescriptions requiring storage. In turn, it has saved the National Health Service GBP 300 million within two years.
“We are seeing great technological advancements in the medical supply chain industry overseas and I envisage a similar reality here in Australia,” Andrew said.
Disruptive business models like the Dollar Shave Club – in which monthly supplies of razors and shaving foam are mailed out to subscribers – could also inspire different healthcare delivery models in the Australian pharmaceutical industry, he says.
“We live in an exciting time with amazing technologies at our fingertips – IoT, 3D printing, blockchain, genomic mapping and AI to name but a few – and yet some healthcare products are still delivered in a very old fashioned way,” Andrew said.
“The pandemic showed us how innovative and adaptable we can be. Let’s keep that innovation alive and work together to have a similar impact on HIV, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other diseases.
“If scientific development is combined with logistical innovation, the impact on patient outcomes could be significant. We can make this a reality,” he concluded.
Andrew Mitchell is the General Manager of Healthcare at Linfox, Australia’s largest privately-owned logistics company. Hear more of his expert recommendations on improving the pharmaceutical supply chain at the Bio Connections Australia Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.
This year’s event will be held on 25 July at the Collins Square Event Centre, Melbourne.
Learn more and register.