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Authored by Mandar Paralkar, Global Head of Life Sciences at SAP

Supply chain disruptions aren’t new, but they are more challenging during a pandemic. An arsenal of supply chain management technologies are available to help monitor shifting demand patterns, share critical data, and ensure life-saving medications reach people in need quickly and at manageable cost.


For most of us, supply chains work silently and seamlessly all around us. Or at least they did until COVID-19 broke the spell we were under that all was well. Initially, missing gloves and disinfectant wipes were evidence of cracks in the supply chain. Thankfully, both of those supplies had limited worldwide repercussions. There’s concern, though, that similar breaks in life science supply chains could impact human lives.

In a recent IDC Perspective from Michael Townsend, research director for IDC Health insights, the analyst points out that events like the pandemic highlight shortcomings in traditional supply chain management. For the life sciences supply chain, the impact takes on a greater level of accountability as it could delay life-saving drugs, devices, and personal protective equipment that hospitals need to care for patients.

At the time of writing this article, the US and most of the world was again experiencing a major surge in coronavirus cases and huge demand for tests while readying for the potential release of few vaccines currently in clinical trial stages. For busy hospitals and clinics, inventory for equipment like masks, gowns, gloves, disinfectants, and diagnostic kits was not keeping up with demand. On the pharma side, biologics and vaccine companies needed to fast track approval processes for patient medicines. From every direction, the situation for the supply chain is incredibly pressurized and traditional just-in-time inventory management is limiting fast response and easy collaboration.

Preparing for Demand driven supply chain

Most likely, this won’t be our last surge, or the only vaccines developed for the virus. With so much riding on the ability to deliver these life-saving goods quickly and safely, life sciences organizations need better collaboration tools. Thankfully, new and better resources are available. Technology can improve end-to-end visibility in the supply chain to help monitor shifting demand patterns in major disruptions like a pandemic and for smaller ones such as batch-process inconsistencies or regulatory requirements.

As horrible as this pandemic has been for each of us, it is pushing organizations toward digitization that has been needed in the life sciences supply chain for decades. Adding more collaboration and insight into the supply chain sets up opportunities for one-to-one personalized treatments with a batch size of one, adjustments to cold chain constraints, chain of identity and chain of custody requirements. We could also see make-to-order manufacturing and rough-cut demand plans become a reality not only for coronavirus medications but also for targeted therapy treatments.

These types of hopeful scenarios seem distant while we’re in the midst of the pandemic. In response to immediate COVID needs, technology can again ensure better collaboration for vaccine distribution. What we’ve seen during the pandemic is a welcomed higher degree of willingness and desire to work together. The right tools and technologies can help us get in front of the coronavirus and hopefully save lives.

Vaccine Collaboration Hub for Life Sciences

Frequently, ineffective collaboration starts with the inability to share information, whether that be data, messages, or nontraditional sources like social media and Internet of Things data. Fortunately, we are in a time where solutions are available that can exchange large volumes of data in different formats across a life sciences supply chain and apply artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to that data from the cloud.

These technologies are available and can be combined, integrated via the infrastructure for the Vaccine Collaboration Hub, which evolved from a pharmaceutical network developed by SAP and several large pharmaceutical wholesalers and manufacturers. Powered by cloud services, the hub enables Life Sciences trading partners to deliver:

  • Controlled vaccine sourcing and manufacturing

  • Seamless vaccine distribution

  • Analytics for transparency and visibility

Using the hub, manufacturers, logistics service providers, pharma companies, wholesalers and dispensers can all work together. Necessary activities like order fulfillment to dispensing units and postvaccine monitoring can be initiated, tracked, and managed on the hub to assist in distributing and administrating vaccines to people around the world. In a time that demands speed and accuracy, the hub enables vaccine supply chain transparency, and can distribute the right vaccines, in the right quantities, in the right condition at the right time, to the right place at the manageable supply chain cost.

The hub illustrates the kind of collaboration that is needed now and post pandemic.  It’s one of many examples of technology companies’ efforts to help the life sciences industry become stronger and more resilient. When we have the tools, we need to work together and collaborate effectively we can expect a stronger, healthier, and more agile future—and fewer life-altering disruptions.