The challenge of meeting pharmaceutical supply chain requirements

Air cargo carriers face the challenge of balancing the need to make investments to meet the needs of pharmaceutical shippers and justifying those investments to finance departments.
Speaking at the Air Cargo News Life Sciences and Pharmaceuticals conference, American Airlines manager cold chain strategy Tom Grubb provided an example of how it had worked collaboratively and adapted processes and facilities to meet the needs of a shipper transporting blood plasma paste.
He said that because of the sensitive nature of the product, the entire supply chain, right down to packaging suppliers, had got together to talk through all aspects of the transport procedure and any possible issues that could arise.
Each member of the supply chain was given veto rights to stop any procedures being pushed through that may have a negative impact of their part of the chain.
American Airlines adopted several procedures specific to this customer, such allowing the refrigerated truck to remain on hand until the aircraft had taken off in case there was an emergency and putting the frozen shipments in a cold room for short periods, in order to ensure the shipment was kept within the required limits.
However, Grubb also admitted there was a balancing act to be found when finding the revenues to justify investments in facilities to meet the needs of pharmaceutical shippers.
“There is a limit,” Grubb said. “It is easier to measure the long-term success of the facilities on the backend because we can see what the throughput is and what the revenue generation is.
“The hard part is when look at how we set our programme up in the six years we have been doing this, we have added infrastructure changes to nine different stations including a dedicated pharma facility in Philadelphia and that is a lot of investment.
“The hard part is, without a revenue justification to go to our finance people and say we need to do this in this station, it is challenging to get that justification done because the first question they have is how much revenue will this generate? Finance guys do not like the justification build it and they will come.”
Grubb’s views were echoed by several other airline participants at the event.
Meanwhile, at an earlier session, GlaxoSmithKline compliance and quality manager Stephen Mitchell outlined some of the requirements pharma shippers had when looking to develop and maintain supply chains.
He identified transparency of shipment details, meeting regulatory requirements, cost, temperature management, supply chain security, financial stability of partners, data integrity and accuracy, performance measurement, aircraft capability, capacity constraints, facility and ground handler standards, and broker capabilities as some of the main areas of consideration.
He also identified risk management as an area of concern and said a risk assessment should be carried out covering as many eventaultities as possible and also that there should be a plan ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’.
“We can look at global weather patterns, political stability and have our business continuity planning up to scratch,” he said.
“We should think about the business processes with a ‘what if’ attitude. We may not know what the next catastrophic event will be, but we can ask ‘what can we do if there a power failure or terrorist event, what can we do to manage the process?’”
Both Grubb and Mitchell agreed that the patient should always be at the centre of considerations and supply chain implementation.
“It is important that we keep patient need in focus and constantly look at our supply chain and look at how we can work with our partners to create better performance?” said Mitchell.
“How can we collaborate? Where are the synergies? What can we do to improve the way we comply with regulations and work with regulators?”

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