In This Issue
Winter Bridge on Frontiers of Engineering
December 15, 2023 Volume 53 Issue 4
This issue features articles by 2023 US Frontiers of Engineering symposium participants. The articles cover pressing global issues including resilience and security in the information ecosystem, engineered quantum systems, complex systems in the context of health care, and mining and mineral resource production.

Transforming Pharmaceutical Supply Chains A Connected Approach for Enhanced Drug Delivery

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Author: Guadalupe Hayes-Mota

A connected pharmaceutical supply chain offers the potential to revolutionize how drugs are developed, produced, and delivered to patients.

The life science industry, especially the pharmaceutical sector, is pivotal in maintaining and improving public health globally. Recent data from the ASHP Drug Shortages Resource Center at the University of Utah Drug Information Services underscore a concerning shortage of 309 active drugs in the second quarter of 2023, marking the highest number in almost a decade (ASHP 2023).

Chemotherapy drugs are among the top five categories experiencing the most pronounced shortages. The shortages those drugs are facing are deemed the most severe by 57% of pharmacists, who describe them as “critically impactful,” directly affecting patient care. More than 40% of healthcare system pharmacists report having to delay or cancel treatments or procedures due to drug shortages (ASHP 2023).

This scarcity has been further intensified by the global COVID-19 ­pandemic, emphasizing the pressing need for a robust and agile supply chain in the life science industry. This article delves into the imperative of a well-functioning healthcare supply chain. It explores the potential of connecting complex global supply chains using supply chain control tower (SCCT) technology within the life science industry to expedite drug delivery to patients.

Understanding the Healthcare Supply Chain

The reliance of Americans on medications is substantial. Around 45.8% of the US population has utilized prescription drugs within the last 30 days (Martin et al. 2019), underscoring the critical necessity of ensuring the availability of medicines.

The healthcare supply chain within the life science industry is a complex network of processes and stakeholders involved in producing, distributing, and deliver­ing pharmaceutical products to patients. The journey commences with sourcing raw materials and progresses through manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and ultimately reaching healthcare providers or patients (figure 1). Any disruption within this intricate network can severely impact patients’ health, highlighting the ­criticality of a well-coordinated and robust supply chain.

Hayes-Mota figure 1.gif

A seamlessly connected healthcare supply chain enables real-time information exchange and collaboration among various stakeholders, including manufacturers, distributors, healthcare providers, and patients. Biopharmaceutical companies, through the integration of centralized technology and SCCTs, can bridge gaps in the supply chain and optimize the flow of products from raw materials to timely delivery to patients. This integration is pivotal in enhancing the accessibility and ­availability of essential medications, ultimately improving overall healthcare outcomes.

Improved communication and collaboration among the nodes constitute a primary benefit of a connected supply chain. A seamless flow of information, from patient demand to manufacturing capacities, empowers stakeholders to respond swiftly to changing circum­stances and unexpected events. This enhanced communication ensures that fluctuations in demand are addressed in a timely manner, preventing the unavailability of medicines for patients. Moreover, a connected supply chain fosters flexibility, enabling rapid adjustments and adaptations to meet evolving market needs and unforeseen challenges.

Establishing a connected supply chain allows manufacturers to align their operations more closely with patient demand. Real-time communication of demand needs from patients to manufacturers enables a demand-driven approach to supply and demand planning. It ensures that the manufacturers produce the right quantities of medications and distribute them promptly, minimizing excess inventory and reducing the risk of drug shortages. A fluid and responsive supply-and-demand planning process is crucial to meeting patients’ needs and expectations.

Connecting the global supply chain in the life ­science industry aims to prevent drug shortages and ensure patients can access the required medications. A well-coordinated supply chain, facilitated by centralized technology and SCCTs, significantly contributes to achieving this objective.

Centralized Technology and SCCTs

Centralized technology forms the backbone of the healthcare supply chain, connecting its nodes and enabling real-time data collection, analysis, and dissemination. In this interconnected network, SCCTs act as centralized command centers, providing a comprehensive view of the supply chain and facilitating effective monitoring and management of operations. Through the utilization of advanced analytics and predictive modeling, these control towers can anticipate demand, optimize inventory levels, and enhance supply chain resilience.

In the evolving landscape of healthcare supply chain management, centralized systems, particularly SCCTs, signify a paradigm shift. These systems amalgamate various components and cutting-edge technologies to form a unified and interconnected supply chain ecosystem.

At the heart of the SCCT lies a sophisticated system with critical components that collectively enhance its ability to efficiently manage complex supply chains. The centralized data hub acts as the primary repository, akin to a cell’s nucleus, housing all vital supply chain data. This hub offers a comprehensive view of supply chain dynamics by aggregating, organizing, and managing the extensive data generated, collected, or utilized.

Fundamental aspects of managing intricate supply chains are effective communication and collaboration. SCCTs are equipped with collaboration tools that facilitate seamless communication and information sharing among stakeholders. The tools streamline processes, ensuring alignment among all involved parties and ultimately enhancing overall efficiency.

One of the pivotal features of SCCTs is the integration of advanced analytics, including machine learning and predictive analytics. Stakeholders benefit from actionable insights derived from vast amounts of supply chain data, enabling informed decision-making by forecasting demand, predicting disruptions, optimizing inventory levels, and more.

Connecting the global supply chain in the life science industry aims to prevent drug shortages and ensure patients can access the required medications.

A robust and reliable infrastructure serves as the backbone of SCCTs, encompassing high-performance servers, secure networks, and advanced computing capabilities. This infrastructure is essential for smooth operations and rapid data processing, enabling real-time ­decision-making—a critical aspect of efficient supply chain management.

Security measures are paramount within SCCTs to safeguard sensitive healthcare data. Rigorous implementation of encryption, access controls, and continuous monitoring ensures data integrity and confidentiality, fostering trust and maintaining privacy in healthcare information handling within the supply chain.

The role of technology enablers in the effectiveness of SCCTs cannot be overstated. They have ­revolutionized supply chain management processes. Artificial intelligence (AI) acts as a cognitive powerhouse within SCCTs, analyzing data patterns, predicting future scenarios, and automating routine tasks, significantly boosting ­supply chain efficiency with intelligent decision-making capabilities.

Complementing AI, machine learning enables systems to learn and improve from experience, contributing to more accurate and efficient decision-making over time. The integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) in supply chains transforms the traditional approach into a dynamic, real-time ecosystem. IoT facilitates live updates from various touchpoints within the supply chain through interconnected devices equipped with sensors and communication capabilities. This connectivity revolutionizes data collection and dissemination, providing invaluable insights for improved decision-making within the supply chain.

The Impact of Centralized Systems on the Healthcare Supply Chain

Integrating centralized systems and SCCTs into the healthcare supply chain landscape yields profound and far-reaching impacts, transforming how the supply chain is managed and ensuring enhanced efficiency, agility, and patient-centric outcomes.

Benefits of a connected supply chain include the ability to leverage real-time monitoring and data analytics to track the movement of pharmaceutical products across the supply chain. Advanced analytics, including AI and machine learning, provide actionable insights into demand patterns, enabling better production planning and inventory management.

A connected supply chain optimizes inventory levels by facilitating a continuous flow of information. Manufacturers can align their production with actual demand, reducing excess inventory and minimizing the risk of overstocking or stockouts, ultimately improving cost ­efficiency and ensuring critical medications’ availability.

Collaboration with suppliers and partners is encouraged, promoting a cohesive and mutually beneficial relation­ship. Real-time demand forecasts and production schedules shared with suppliers ensure a steady and ­timely supply of raw materials, fostering trust and reliability ­within the supply chain ecosystem.

The objective of a connected supply chain is to prioritize patients’ needs. By integrating patient data and feedback, manufacturers can tailor production to match specific patient requirements, ensuring timely medications meet individual patients’ unique needs and promoting better health outcomes.

The interconnected nature of a connected supply chain enhances adaptability and resilience in the face of unexpected events or disruptions. Rapid communication and collaboration among supply chain nodes enable swift adjustments to production schedules, distribution routes, or inventory levels.

In a study conducted by Accenture, organizations implementing supply chain control towers have been shown to achieve substantial benefits: a 5% reduction in logistic costs, a notable 20% enhancement in labor efficiency, a 15% decrease in inventory, and a significant 15% reduction in waste through destruction, donation, or discount (Kumar et al. 2022).

While the concept of a connected supply chain holds immense promise, successful implementation requires addressing specific challenges and considerations:

  • Increased data sharing across the supply chain raises concerns about data security and privacy. Robust cybersecurity measures and compliance with data protection regulations are essential to safeguarding the integrity and confidentiality of shared data.
  • Integrating modern, centralized technology with legacy systems can pose technical challenges, necessitating substantial investment and expertise.
  • Achieving proper connectivity necessitates active participation and collaboration from all supply chain stakeholders to overcome organizational silos and ­foster a culture of collaboration.

The pharmaceutical industry stands at the brink of a transformative era, driven by technological advancements and a growing realization of the need for efficient supply chain management. A connected supply chain represents a paradigm shift, offering the potential to revolutionize how drugs are developed, produced, and delivered to patients. Embracing this approach can enhance drug delivery efficiency, ensure patient satisfaction, and ultimately contribute to a healthier and more prosperous global community. While the journey towards a fully connected pharmaceutical supply chain may pose challenges, the benefits far outweigh the obstacles, making it a strategic imperative for the future of healthcare.


American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). 2023. Drug Shortages Statistics.­drugshortages/shortage-resources/ drug-shortages-statistics.

ASHP. 2023. Severity and Impact of Current Drug Shortages June/July 2023. Online at ASHP-2023-Drug-Shortages-Survey-Report.pdf.

Kumar P, Soroka A, Khatri K, Carmona P. 2022. Supply chain control tower- from visibility to value. Accenture. Online at chain-control-tower.

Martin C, Hales C, Gu Q, Ogden C. 2019. Prescription Drug Use in the United States, 2015–2016. NCHS Data Brief (334):1–8.

About the Author:Guadalupe Hayes-Mota is CEO and founder, Healr Solutions, and lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.