The pharmaceutical industry is not short of challenges — patent cliffs, regulatory scrutiny, and R&D productivity, as well as a complex supply chain. Pharmaceutical products see several changes of hands — from the manufacturers to distributors to dispensers and, finally, the patients — allowing easy entry of counterfeit drugs and drug diversions. According to estimates by the WHO, nearly $40 billion is lost each year to counterfeit products.
Drug shortages, cost-cutting pressures, demand for generics, and increased online buying further fuel the sale of counterfeit drugs. This not only leads to the loss of billions of dollars, but also increases health risks and recalls, tarnishing the brand image of the already struggling pharmaceutical industry. Track and Trace (T&T) is a new solution that can help pharmaceutical companies effectively manage their supply chain and mitigate the risks associated with counterfeit drugs.
In this paper, GEP discusses what the pharmaceutical industry needs to know about track and trace, and how procurement can support its adoption.
The pharmaceutical supply chain is fragmented and complex, on account of the multiple entities involved as the drugs move from the manufacturing plant to the point of sale. Often, in case of expiry or recalls, the drugs return back to the manufacturer.
Each time the goods change hands, payments are made to the manufacturer or wholesaler. Prices vary depending on the negotiating power of the buyer, with the seller providing discounts in the form of chargebacks and rebates. When goods are returned, the pricing mechanisms are further complicated. The frequent price changes which arise from this complexity create opportunities for wholesalers looking to exploit loopholes in the system. For example, wholesalers may buy in bulk when prices are low and return the drug to the manufacturer at the current market price, following a price increase. This type of scenario means that the very structure of the supply chain has a significant commercial impact, while the frequent and multiple changes in ownership increase the ease with which counterfeit drugs can enter the supply chain.
Besides counterfeit drugs entering the supply chain, there are also opportunities for drugs to be diverted or stolen. Diversion means selling a drug that is meant for a specific purpose or market in the open market. In 2011, an individual diverted $2.7 million in prescription drugs by purchasing them from physicians who get discounted rates, and then reselling them to wholesalers at a profit. Similarly, in 2008, a shipment of Carbatrol (carbamazepine) — a drug to treat seizures — was stolen while traveling from Shire Pharma's manufacturing facility to its distribution center. Shire later reported that Carbatrol from the stolen shipment, and past its expiry date, had made it back into the legitimate supply chain and was being returned for credit.
Pharmaceutical companies have tried unique codes, holograms, and even manual chain-of-custody records in the past to prove the authenticity of products, but without success. To mitigate these risks, regulatory bodies around the world have called for “Track & Trace” — a process to serialize item-level products across the supply chain.
Track & Trace (T&T) is a mass serialization solution that uses a unique identifying code printed on each product to prevent the prevalent counterfeit problem.
The current tracking process has several weaknesses and limitations, including manual inputs, no central database and no single entity responsible for tracking a particular product. This makes it extremely vulnerable to the entry of counterfeits. Regulators across the globe have created legislation to deal with this challenge, or are in the process of doing so.
While it may be challenging to eliminate all problems, robust T&T regulations will certainly help ensure that drugs can be tracked across the entire supply chain, and allow purchasers to recognise authentic products with clear traceability, and, conversely, detect illegitimate drugs and counterfeit products. T&T will reduce manufacturers' vulnerability to counterfeiting and diversion, and will thus improve profitability through efficient recall management, reverse logistics, chargeback resolution and proper planning. This can help pharmaceutical companies enhance their top and bottom lines.
While T&T is gaining popularity across the globe due to its benefits for the pharmaceutical industry as well as consumers, it presents several challenges.
With different deadlines in each country, the pharmaceutical industry is facing significant challenges to its inventory and procurement processes. All functions will be affected, creating particular challenges for those working with vendors and Contract Manufacturing Organisations (CMOs). On the whole, procurement needs to reconsider its supply base, with a special focus on IT systems, packaging and distribution.
While some in the industry have become early adopters and learnt valuable lessons, others have opted to “wait and see” to get complete clarity on regulations and timelines. While those who opt to wait and see may see a somewhat lower implementation cost, as everyone benefits from the lessons learnt by the early adopters, they may also pay a premium to get ready in time for looming deadlines. The U.S., for instance, has a 2015 deadline for serialization, where dispensers need to have established systems for verifying the products.
Piloting T&T with select packaging lines will not only enable enterprises to fully understand and gauge their resource requirements and help them to enhance the safety profile of marketed products and reduce counterfeit entry. It will also allow them to play a role in defining the standards and influencing the regulations which are eventually enforced.
GEP recommends the following six-step process for procurement organizations to capitalize on the T&T opportunity
With increasing global concerns about drug diversions, thefts and counterfeit sales, governments and regulators across the world are pushing for new regulations and solutions to prevent these problems. Pharmaceutical companies should investigate the adoption of a T&T solution to mitigate supply chain risks, meet regulatory requirements and improve their bottom line.
The cumulative effect of changes to each component involved in serialization — which enables T&T — can have a substantial impact on the supply chain and internal as well as external resources. Procurement can play a strategic role in enabling this transition for pharmaceutical companies by optimizing T&T related spend on IT, packaging, and other vendors; ensuring regulatory compliance with all partners; and supporting change management at the enterprise level.