FlyPharma Conference Europe moves industry agenda forward

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Brussels Airport

The FlyPharma Conference Europe wrapped up for another year on June 6 returning with an expanded roster of speakers who provided insight into all aspects of the pharmaceutical supply chain, say organisers.

The event was once again hosted at the Sheraton Brussels Airport Hotel and the host partner, Brussels Airport, provided speakers and insight into its own experiences working directly with a number of supply chain stakeholders.

FlyPharma always aims to instigate discussions on key industry topics, such as temperature excursions or security challenges, but also aims to expand attendees’ knowledge regarding newer and more unfamiliar territory, which appeared in the conference during debates over data sharing and innovative means of encouraging this, for example through blockchain technology. Behind all of these discussions was a real desire to push the industry forward and to rectify the issues that are still existent within the developing supply chain.

Two days

As before, the event took place over two days and featured a range of speakers from across the industry. The first day really brought into focus the impact the pharma supply chain has on people across the world, when Christine Richard, of Amerijet International Airlines, spoke on the devastation caused to Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria that struck in September 2017, and how the company had managed to fly in pharmaceuticals despite major logistical challenges.

Richard explained how Amerijet, with its facilities on the island, were able to help: “As a commercial carrier, Amerijet was the first one onto the island – about 48 hours after the storm was over. We did about four to five flights per day, seven day a week, for thirteen weeks straight, bringing relief goods onto the island. After about four to five days, we started bringing in raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry so that they could start up their operations again. We also carried about 100,000 kilos of medical devices, just trying to support the pharma industry to bring out as many finished products as possible.”

Temperature excursions

This effort shows an element to the supply chain that is often not seen – its ability to react quickly to a disaster and bring about positive results, beyond any commercial interest. Efficiency of the supply chain returned again, but under a different topic, when SkyCell chief commercial officer Marrie Groeneveld highlighted just how costly temperature excursions can be to the industry.

In particular, he revealed that a conversation with a pharma company revealed it experienced two per cent temperature excursions within its supply chain. This was calculated to be a €50 million cost per year for the company – not a sum of money that any company can ignore. When SkyCell pursued further research into the number of excursions experienced across the industry, the data revealed that, across 50 interviews with companies involved, they averaged at a temperature excursion rate of 8.5 per cent. Again, demonstrating just how much work there is still to be done to secure the supply chain.

Seconds out

The second day saw some non-traditional solutions offered to aid the task of creating a supply chain that was both secure and transparent. One of which involved a technology that was never far from the headlines in 2017 and has seen a surge of interest in recent times: blockchain technology. Understandably, Veratrak chief product officer Matthew Wilson, took some time to explain the basics of blockchain – when a technology has only recently come into the public consciousness, there is still a good amount of catching up to be done in terms of understanding.

Wilson identified that other industries have already taken the plunge into employing blockchain, name checking Everledger, a diamond and jewellery trading platform, and Walmart, as part of its grocery goods supply chain. Though a new area of thought for the industry, there was genuine interest in learning more, which was demonstrated by the number of questions for Wilson at the end of his speech, as attendees were engaged to learn more about the potential for the technology.

At the ground level, Sensitech intelligence manager, Loraine Bout, spoke on the dangers of pharmaceutical theft – despite this only representing one per cent of thefts by product type. Bout emphasised that this is only reported data and that theft it highly underreported; there is also a tendency to downplay the facts, making it difficult to truly assess cost.

More fundamentally, a supply chain’s success or failure can sometimes come from the individuals directly involved in the transportation of the goods: the people on the ground at the end of the chain, or the truck drivers. DUS Airport Cargo managing director Gerton Hulsman, contributed a thought from the audience that it is the responsibility of all members of the supply chain to ensure that these individuals are adequately treated and fairly paid to ensure that they too have a stake in the security of the supply chain, a comment that drew approbation from across the room.

Achieving authorisation

The audience insight that drew the greatest applause during the event came from Brussels Airport head of cargo and logistics Steven Polmans. He recounted, during the setting up of the IATA CEIV Pharma certification, how there had been some doubt from a number of companies about the importance of achieving accreditation: “Until one gentlemen stood up, I still thank you for this Eddy [Pfizer senior manager for logistics delivery ELC & ES EU, Eddy Weygaerts], and said to the whole of the room: ‘If you do not do this and if you do not change, then you’re not going to have my cargo in future and that is what is going to happen.’ By the end of meeting, we had our ten companies to launch because suddenly everyone was interested. So, if tomorrow the shippers would sit together and then say, ‘this is the standard’, you would be surprised by how quickly we can move as an industry”.

The reason the response drew such a strong reaction is due to the understanding that the supply chain is able, when encouraged, to rise successfully to whatever new challenges it is faced with. It was indicative of the sense of positivity and energy that all stakeholders have in the industry to move forward, and quickly, to secure the pharma supply chain.