By Leigh Anderson, Managing Director, Bis Henderson Recruitment
The retail, wholesale and pharmaceutical distribution sector is “in play”, as they say in the markets. The group around Lloyds Pharmacy (retail) and AAH Pharmaceuticals (wholesale) was acquired by Aurelius; Walden acquired Movianto, joining Eurotranspharma and Ciblex and thus reinforcing their claim to be “the European leader in transport and logistics for the pharmaceutical industry”; and takeover rumors are circulating around Boots/Alliance, owned by Walgreen, as well as other companies in the UK and Europe.
Alongside this market activity, there has been a marked upturn in recruitment for senior and middle-rank positions in logistics and the sector’s supply chain. And that’s not surprising, as broader skill sets from relevant related industries will be needed.
Ownership changes invariably trigger revisions to business strategies and a consequent reassessment of whether the right skills and expertise are in place to achieve the new goals. But this is on top of more fundamental changes that have been triggered or accelerated by the Covid pandemic.
Pharmacy restructuring and involvement in vaccine deployment has resulted in significant and continued investment in new distribution centers, last mile delivery and automation, including robotic dispensing solutions. In addition, the pandemic has exposed critical dependencies, particularly for drug packaging and delivery supplies, which has propelled supply chain resilience higher on business agendas.
More fundamentally, the pandemic has accelerated the digitization of medicine, including pharmacology. Pressure on general practice has been met by the rise of the NHS Direct platform and a boom in private sector online medicine, through companies such as Babylon, PushDoctor and Lloyds Clinical Pharmacy Home care. And that extends to online ordering of drugs and therapies, especially repeat prescriptions, for direct delivery to the patient.
The processes are analogous to consumer e-commerce, but with significant differences. Direct-to-Patient promises to be more convenient, reduce waste, encourage better patient adherence to courses, as well as help control the problem of parallel imports. Better demand visibility can be integrated with predictive analytics for further improvement. But what exactly this might mean for the role of wholesalers is still in question.
The process of developing and deploying vaccines has also highlighted the importance of precise logistics for clinical trials, where any supply failure risks undoing months or years of development work and delaying the deployment of valuable therapies.
Healthcare is a data-rich environment and the focus is now on using sophisticated data analytics, to quote Walden, “to optimize logistics processes and streamline flows both within healthcare entities (pharmacies, hospitals) than directly to patients”. Digitization quickly applies to a host of regulatory requirements, from real-time traceability to quality control, marketing authorization, pharmaceutical release, customs brokerage, and more.
Forward-looking companies are also beginning to plan for an era of personalized therapies, particularly around cell and gene therapies. So-called “vein-to-vein” supply chains will require sophisticated logistics to transport blood or tissue samples from the patient to the laboratory, as well as to return the resulting therapy to the patient, all under critical time pressure. . The trend, already evident, is towards ever wider product ranges, in smaller volumes and with high volatility in demand, with very short shelf lives, requiring different temperature regimes, partly treated by the increasing use of deferral strategies. And, it goes without saying that all of this must be conducted with the utmost ethical and customer-centric attention.
So what skills are companies looking for to meet this complex agenda? Obviously, experience managing significant change will be valuable. There are also specific technical skills in demand – in robotics and automation, in applying big data analytics to supply chain and distribution activities, and in creating efficient distribution channels. directly to users by drawing appropriate lessons from consumer e-commerce. Experience in critical areas (short-life products and stringent lead time requirements) and reducing lead times is required, as is experience in using procurement processes and supplier relationships to improve supply chain resilience.
Managers at all levels will also need to understand how tightly regulated industries need to operate – especially as some innovations, for example, direct-to-patient supply may, in some countries, require legal or regulatory changes.
Partly because of this, there has been an unspoken assumption in some parts of the industry that senior executives really need medical, pharmacological, or life sciences training. But it is now understood that this is not necessarily the case, and that there are lessons to be learned and knowledge to be transferred from other sectors – consumer e-commerce, temperature-controlled food retail chains, even data analytics used in high-volume, but high-variance, industries such as fashion.
Bis Henderson has extensive experience helping managers with these high-value skills transition into different industry and business sectors, enhancing their careers and facilitating the transfer of knowledge to new employers. As a natural port of call for logistics and supply chain professionals looking to grow, we have access to a pool of skills and talent that the pharmaceutical distribution industry will need to meet the challenges future.