Supply Chains in Clinical Trials under Covid-19 pressure

Posted on 01/06/22

Supply chain disruptions have never been as unprecedented and challenging as they are now. For over two years, we have had a global pandemic that changed the world.   I have been in the logistics field for over 30 years and there are always challenges but never anything like we are experiencing now and for so long.   I was reading an article in the NY Times on how the supply chain crisis unfolded.  It got me thinking about what we have learned and how we need to improve in the clinical trial supply space.  

So, what are the major issues? 

Cargo ships are full, yet they can’t be unloaded.  Not just in some areas, but in the largest ports around the world. On the other hand, some cargo ships sit empty at their origin.  Once the containers were finally loaded, they sailed but couldn’t be unloaded when they arrived at their destination.   

With airline capacity down, companies had to adjust to day-to-day navigation. Airlines didn’t have passengers, so flights had to be canceled.  There weren’t enough cargo aircraft to compensate.  Airlines resorted to removing seats from aircraft so they could move cargo and loading and unloading aircraft became an issue when handling crews were reduced.  We’ve had to do creative planning and explore new routes so trials could have their supply on time.    

The trucking industry, which was already in demand due to a shortage of truck drivers, now had to work around a massive vaccine and medical supply distribution.   

We discovered how important it is to leverage packaging solutions. COVID-19 showed us that we can run out of stock due to the demands of the market. Packaging shortages have forced the pharmaceutical industry to re-evaluate how to transport quickly and safely to patients globally.   

The supply chain was overloaded, and we weren’t just dealing with availability issues, but rising costs.   Costs of products and services skyrocketed across the industry because of reduced capacity and staffing.   

Pharmaceutical companies struggled to handle the reduction in the workforce due to layoffs or hiring new workers.  In addition to that, they were forced to reduce their hours of operation which impacted shipping and receiving. At the same time, they were seeing an increase in demand.    

The pharmaceutical industry has learned from the distribution effort – but this is far from over.  We need to keep focusing on finding new ways.  We discovered the importance and value of collaboration in our organizations.  By doing so, we can create greater efficiency in clinical supply.   

Now is the time to build global networks to ensure patients worldwide have access.  We can do this by working with our partners to help navigate challenges.  Expanding courier networks and establishing strong relationships with our couriers is crucial to doing this.   

The pharmaceutical industry’s efforts throughout the pandemic highlight the strength, resiliency, and importance of integrity in the supply chain.   

It’s an end-to-end process.   We need to focus on proactive planning, forecasting, and agility.  We need to ensure everyone involved understands there is a patient at the end of the supply chain.  A patient in (urgent) need of medicine. Successful supply chains rely on problem-solving throughout the organization. Pharma companies need to integrate, be flexible, and resilient so we are best positioned to navigate the supply chain disruptions.   This will help us respond to them rapidly and efficiently.  

We know that every success we have has the potential to save or extend a patient’s life.  It’s always at the forefront of our minds.  We face challenges; we look for ways to get better and we never give up.  There are no shortcuts.  It’s all about planning, being proactive, and adapting.  Finding a way in these challenging times has never been more important.  We at Myonex try that each day, every day. 

If interested in working with a trusted clinical trial supply partner, contact us at [email protected] 

Liz Tompkins, International Logistics Supervisor