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Supply Chain Logistics Have Changed Are You Keeping Up?

How to protect your API supply chain with a quality-driven logistics partner.

Logistics bigIt’s hard to overestimate the challenges of moving active drug ingredients around the world today.

First, there’s the challenge of continuous compliance. Finding a manufacturer capable of reliable, scalable, high-quality API production isn’t easy, and that’s only one half of this daunting equation. Moving those API materials through a complex chain of custody, all while maintaining cGMP to the satisfaction of an active and empowered regulatory body, is equally difficult, and equally critical. If a drug developer’s manufacturer is reliable but its logistics are not—or vice versa—non-compliance is a very real and costly risk.

Then there’s the challenge of data. Someone has to collect, integrate and protect huge volumes of data generated from multiple sources and vendors throughout the labyrinthine chain of custody, and they have to do it efficiently and transparently, according to rules and guidelines that are continuously evolving.

Add the compounding risks of global trade instabilities and commercial pressure to source hard-to-find ingredients faster than the competition, and drug developers are left with a complex and precarious route between their API supplier in Europe, China or India and their lab or manufacturing facility at home. 

A new breed of API logistics specialists is helping to make sense of these complexities. They improve on the traditional broker model by tightly integrating logistics with quality assurance teams. This means that the people responsible for moving your materials from A to B aren’t just about trucks, trade routes, and tables of inert data; they’re focused on protecting the quality of your materials as intently as the team that oversees the reliability of your manufacturers, and they’re using next-generation technology and processes to do it.

They’re positioned to deliver faster, smarter, more customer-centric logistical services, but what makes these API logistics partners especially valuable is their full integration with quality and regulatory teams and their familiarity with the industry’s rules of engagement. These are front-line experts who understand the nuances of today’s pharmaceutical regulations and who can intuit what’s to come.
Their supply chain and logistics strategy helps drug manufacturers maneuver new and emerging regulations and chart the best possible journey with the speed, agility and cost efficiency of one who sees into the future. 

Find yourself a logistics partner like that, and you’ll find your way through the complexity of sourcing and procuring reliable, high-quality APIs in today’s global marketplace.

How to recognize a quality-driven API logistics team
1. They have the right people
Not just anyone will do. A background in logistics isn’t good enough; the singular nature of the pharmaceutical industry and its tight knot of regulations and best practices demands more from those maneuvering within it than competence with a spreadsheet.

To operate smoothly, API logistics teams need industry specific credentials. They need to be built on the shoulders of those with front-line pharmaceutical experience. Often, leaders of quality-driven API logistics teams have crossed over from managerial positions in innovative and thriving pharmaceutical companies, bringing with them a nuanced understanding of current and future trends in drug development and API procurement.

Focused on continuous improvement. A quality-driven API logistics team never rinses-and-repeats. They’re constantly updating and improving their best practices to align with today’s compliance requirements and GMPs, removing risk from the pathway between your API manufacturer and your laboratory. They’re also looking ahead at potential stress factors in the pharmaceutical industry, such as an increasing demand for hard-to-find and small-batch APIs. By cultivating a sharp understanding of these emerging challenges and opportunities, quality-driven logistics teams can proactively identify strategies to protect you from delays or unexpected costs.

Continuous education also means developing deep synergy between the logistics team and other functions within the API procurement organization, particularly the quality assurance team whose focus is on assessing and pre-qualifying manufacturers. Given the right training and resources, a nimble API logistics team can proactively work with the quality assurance team to smooth the movement of materials from the manufacturing floor to the lab bench.

2. They have the right technology
Invested digital transformation. The software that supports API supply chain logistics is increasingly sophisticated. With a modern ERP system at their fingertips, operators can design smarter pathways for API materials, and they can ingest more data along those pathways than ever before, giving logistics teams and the drug companies that rely on them a useful perspective on the efficiency and quality of their overall supply chain.

This digital sophistication is driven in part by emerging pharmaceutical regulations, which set a very strict standard for the integrity and traceability of electronic records. But baseline compliance is no longer good enough. The most effective logistics teams go far beyond collecting inert data to satisfy regulators; they use modern tools to integrate that data with other organizational systems, delivering a dynamic and holistic picture of the supply chain’s end-to-end integrity. This gives them the insight they need to help you answer strategic business questions: How can we eliminate this bottleneck? How can we optimize that material transfer? What are the impacts of shifting from R&D to commercial quantities? The answers lie not in one data source or another, but in their synthesis, enabled by digital tools. This data synthesis, and the insight it reveals, is the foundation for quality-driven consulting and service.

A tech stack designed for future needs and expectations. Using technology to build an integrated and holistic picture of the API supply chain isn’t just about answering today’s most urgent questions; it’s about developing a nimble and efficient strategy for future growth. Quality-driven logistics teams know this, and they proactively evaluate and adopt emerging technology that will help them deliver customer-focused consultation.

A recent pilot program launched by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demonstrates how quickly supply chain logistics could change as new and influential technology comes online. The program engages IBM, Merck and Walmart in a joint exploration of blockchain technology and its potential role in monitoring of the pharmaceutical supply chain in real-time.  Collaborators hypothesize that a shared blockchain network could help defend against dangerous or unscrupulous drug suppliers; what we know for sure is that such a network would have great and far-reaching implications for how APIs are sourced and tracked. An agile, forward-facing logistics team knows this, and is already developing its proficiencies to prepare for this future.

3. They have the right leadership
A commitment to quality from the top down. For a logistics team to thrive, the senior leaders who oversee it must believe in quality above all other considerations. There isn’t a senior team anywhere who will say that they don’t care about quality, but caring about it and positioning it as the singular most important determinant of success are two different propositions.

Leaders in the latter category invest in the puzzle pieces we’ve already covered here: experienced people and the right-sized, deeply integrated digital tools that enable insight-driven action. Their investment in these essential elements is one of both dollars and mindshare; they actively think about how to cinch the integration between quality assurance and logistics ever tighter, and they prioritize systems that support an agile and creative customer service approach.

Conclusion
As supply chain logistics grow increasingly complex in today’s era of tightening regulations and intense scrutiny, more drug developers are seeking out strategic partnerships with modern, nimble API logistics teams. Working in lockstep with those responsible for sourcing and qualifying best-in-class API manufacturers, these teams are a foundational part of ensuring a continuous and compliant supply of high-quality materials, giving drug developers a strong competitive advantage in today’s race to own the marketplace. 

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