Asia’s biopharma sector has been thrust to the center of the global battle against COVID-19.
Which breakthrough trends will impact future manufacturing, production and biopharma supply chains? And which are here to stay?
1. Get breakthrough solutions to market, faster
Making medicines faster and cheaper has long been the norm. But against the ever-present debate on quality and cost, we see broader innovation accelerating too. The dominant theme? Re-imagining what production actually looks like, not just where it’s located.
The goal to bring new products to market faster is reflected right across Asia. There’s significant investment across all sub-sectors of healthcare start-ups, including med-tech and biopharma, where more players are expected in fields like cell, gene therapies and small molecules.
2. Go for green: environment-friendly packaging
Consumers now demand products manufactured and delivered through sustainable processes, from sustainable companies. Pharma packaging in particular presents waste issues, meaning more sustainable solutions are on the rise, particularly in the most challenging temperature range to sustain: between 2-8°C.
One Asian life science company successfully distributes IVF culture media to as many as 14 countries – across what are often 96-hour journeys – using Medpak VI°C, a recyclable rent-and-return solution. Others are using the service to distribute products like heart valves. These companies don’t buy Medpak boxes – they simply pay for use. The 100% recyclable packaging is then collected and re-used.
3. Re-define and re-think supply chain
Pharma businesses have always placed a heavy emphasis on sound contingency planning. It’s part of the industry’s blueprint, being naturally more vulnerable in the event of supply chain disruption.
It’s no longer about ‘Plan A’ in the face of unforeseen events such as COVID-19. It’s about Plan B and Plan C, and even a back-up strategy for those scenarios. And it’s pushing logistics teams to re-configure supply chains, all the way from design to navigation and operations.
Central distribution hubs are playing an increasingly critical role. Take for instance, Singapore, ranked as Asia’s top logistics hub for more than 10 consecutive years. There are now more than 50 biopharma manufacturing plants in Singapore with an output of close to US$ 21 billion – that’s over 21% of Singapore’s total manufacturing activity. Singapore’s central location, multi-modal access, connectivity, professional talent pool and a robust R&D ecosystem are becoming increasingly crucial for biopharma.
4. Greater manufacturing agility here to stay
This is not just a biopharma trend. As the race to discover, develop and market medicine accelerates, examples of differentiated, value-specific supply chains for different product types are appearing everywhere. ‘As-a-service’ supply chain models are evolving right across the healthcare space, which for FedEx includes not just pharma, but life sciences, clinical trials and med-tech.
The COVID-19 crisis acutely highlighted the need for agility. Fears over severe shortages of antibiotics and other medicines have grown. With the prolonged closure of China’s factories, the vulnerability of the pharma supply chain became clear. Now governments and companies around the world are increasingly scouting for alternative sources.
Flexing manufacturing so more than one country can assemble product helps reduce dependency on one single market.
5. Don’t be complacent when it comes to future innovation
The future can truly be seen in technology that’s changing transportation and logistics itself.
Already, drone-delivered medical supplies are on the horizon, at FedEx and elsewhere. While this trend may be largely directed at residential package delivery, it’s easy to imagine that one day, air delivery drones might deliver vaccines for pharma – or even blood or tissue samples for clinical trials.
6. Sharp growth means greater need to flex
The global biopharma market is expected to reach US$269.3 billion by 2024. Yet as Asia Pacific increases its dominance in this space, challenges, including that of flexibility, remain.
For one bioproduct player, choosing to ‘broker select’ means using one specialist for custom clearance, while accessing the quality assurance expertise and reliable network at FedEx. Such solutions demand tight integration. And it’s another big step towards more flexibility and choices for the customer, meaning increasing customer confidence.
Even within our global network here at FedEx, our ability to flex up or down as needed has been crucial this year. In a capacity-constrained environment unimaginable even 6 months ago, being able to pivot our air, ground and sea network has helped us keep businesses moving.
Trends come and go, but it’s ultimately about remaining reliable. Reliability of delivery is just as or maybe even more important than speed as we adapt to the healthcare supply chain of the future.
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 SAPI-commissioned Deloitte Report, https://www.sapi.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Deloitte-Thought-Paper.pdf