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FlyPharma Conference 2017 - "Collaboration is the key"

Published on 12/06/17 at 11:27am

As the conference came to a conclusion, audience members were invited to offer their thoughts on what the overall message had been from the numerous discussions that had taken place. The first answer that came back seemed to sum up the key point that everyone returned to when either giving their own presentations or sharing their views: “Collaboration is the key.”

It was a fitting answer to close an event that brought people from around the world to engage with the biggest issues facing the pharmaceutical supply chain. All stakeholders were represented, as delegates from airlines mingled with logistics companies, individuals from the pharmaceutical industry and those working in the regulatory industry.

The real mix of people, professions and nationalities stimulated lively discussion, both during the event and at the dinner afterwards. However, the focus always returned to how each stakeholder could help eliminate the difficulty in cooperating with each other.

The opening keynote speech by Steef van Amersfoort, Regional Logistics Manager EMEA at AbbVie, set a strong benchmark as to the standards the interconnected industries expect of each other. He set a challenging goal for those carrying pharmaceutical cargo to attempt: that no temperature-controlled warnings would ever be set off in the journey from one location to another.

Some argued that this 100% benchmark was unachievable, but it spoke to the ambition of all those who attended that it could be considered an idealistic aim. If it is not immediately possible, the question arises as to why would van Amersfoort suggest such a target? During the course of his presentation, he reiterated numerous times that the better protected the cargo, the better protected the end consumer would be – the patient.

Alongside cooperation with the supply chain, this was another recurring discussion within the conference – how to always keep the end consumer, the patient, in mind. The last presentation of the conference drove this home, as Mark Paxton, of Rx-360, detailed the risks when fake drugs make it into the supply chain.

In particular, Paxton drew on the experience of the 2008 heparin scare in the US. He explained that the case had caused real fear about the possible extent of security issues in the supply chain. The issue occurred after the blood thinner was found to contain an unidentified substance that was causing allergic reactions and even death across the US. It later transpired that some manufacturers in China had been substituting the membranes usually taken from pigs with another substance, after there had been issues with the supply of pigs for the manufacturing process.

Safety of the patients at the end of the supply chain came up numerous times. During a panel debate, hosted by Hugh Williams, Managing Director at Hughenden Consulting, challenged whether the common idea of ‘faster is better’ was able to hold up to scrutiny. After a lengthy discussion, there was an almost unanimous agreement that, in fact, it was the security of the supply chain that had to be the priority to ensure that the patients, as well as the stakeholders, did not lose out.

There were some that aired doubts about whether it was always viable to place the consumer at the centre of the business model. During the course of the conference, Pharmafocus spoke to one member of a logistics team who expressed some worries about the focus of putting the consumer at the heart of any business model. He cited the fact that lowering the cost of delivering and undercutting competitors did not make for a healthy strategy, and expressed concerns that it was not sustainable in the long-term.

Countering this were many instances where the disruptive ability of emerging technology was shown to necessitate, from a business perspective, making the consumer the decider of how they wished to be treated. Mark Lawrence, of Collect+, warned that any business that was not able to fluidly adapt to consumer demands would find themselves left behind. He cited the case of the music industry, where young adults were choosing to download music online instead of purchasing through the traditional means. He suggested that this was a direct message to the industry to change its business model and suggested that attendees must react in such a way to consumers or face being left behind.

Beyond this, Jan Denecker, UPS Europe, spoke of the potential for drone delivery – he was careful to suggest it was still far from ready but then played a video that showed such a method of delivery being explored in Rwanda. He also explained how the ability to use data was revolutionising how temperature was controlled through the supply chain, using data of average temperature in regions to predict the necessities for transporting pharmaceuticals.

This breakdown of the event only contains a fraction of the full discussions that occurred during the course of the event. One of the last activities on the agenda found all attendees grouped together in round table discussions. They were tasked with tackling several points of discussion and, symptomatic of the wider event, as participants floated ideas, an idea was pitched across the room to Andrea Gruber, Senior Manager of Special Cargo at IATA, to improve air cargo supply chain efficiency. It showed the power of what collaboration can achieve so quickly – in a matter of minutes an idea can be floated, discussed and in the hands of someone able to implement it. It provided a fitting end to a fruitful conference.

The next FlyPharma Conference will take place on 5-6 June 2018. If you wish to learn more about the event or have any questions about its themes or speakers, contact Angela Cottrell, Events Director. Email:

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