Crash course of biosupply chain management and technology


Swetha Prabhakaran

As biopharmaceutical process engineers-in-training at KGI, most of us are only exposed to the R&D, process development, quality and regulatory features of the industry. I’m sure that the other BSMA conference attendees in my cohort would agree that the experience has really opened our eyes to the supply chain aspect of the biotech industry. The supply chain was something we took for granted and therefore overlooked, but clearly it is one of the most important aspects of the industry. Simply put, the supply chain is the bridge to the people that the industry serves. Here are some of the key take-aways that stood out to me during the conference:

Tim Moore’s keynote address about CAR-T therapies’ made-to-order and direct path to patients represents innovative technologies in both therapeutics and supply chain. CAR-T therapy is impressive in its own right, however there is much to be credited to the electronic monitoring that Kite uses to make communication with hospitals and patients easier. Kite’s risky venture into the startup software company that initially only had a fledgling idea definitely payed off. Because the ease of communication in their supply chain system allows them to bring treatments to patients quickly and effectively, it enables Kite’s growth capacity for over 4,000 treatments per year.

Kaoru Nishino’s presentation on how current technology trends can be used to improve current supply chain practices was also very relevant. He mentioned how social networking and social media can provide real-time feeds of different data, and how sharing economies have emerged in order to make up for and optimize spare capacities and underused resources. He also indicated that machine learning and AI are emerging as useful tools for sifting through big data and user patterns in order to implement a more autonomous supply chain.

Kevin Pegels mentioned how in the initial stages of Illumina, because it was such a fast-growing company, the demand limited the supply chain. In fact, during that time, the supply chain was not even considered an asset. However, after changing their mindset and focusing on understanding customer requirements in order to handle orders differently, they realized that cost savings are actually driven by the supply chain. I can imagine that this is probably the case for most other companies as well.

From the “Industry 360 – Taking a Quantum Leap in Rewiring the Biotech Supply Chain” panel with Kevin Pegels, Horacio Enriquez, and Laurent Foetisch, we found out that the problem with big data isn’t that it is big: it’s the lack of access that makes it an issue. If this data was more accessible or presented better, then it would allow for better decision making. And without this basic need fulfilled, the fancier tools such as the internet of things and machine learning is unhelpful.

From the same panel, we were able to take a look into the future, with distributive manufacturing. The intent behind distributive manufacturing is that manufacturing sites will be focused and dispersed in areas to better serve more populations. This concept seems to be a good idea for remote or underserved locations, and there will probably be a trend towards this Amazon-like distributive model in the future. However, there was a caveat mentioned: the biotech industry is a risk-adverse industry. There are too many challenges facing the established infrastructure regarding distributive models for it to be implemented any time soon. But even though it is not viable in the short term, increasing demand or need will probably drive its emergence in the future.

Many other discussions, lectures, and panels were held during this conference, and I was happy to experience it all. The BSMA conference was a fantastic crash course in the world of biosupply chain management and technology, especially for a bioprocessing student such as myself. I am fortunate to have learned more about the bridge between the innovations that we will soon be making and the patients that those innovations will help serve.

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