Reflections on Covid-19 inbound supply chain issues
Quality management system interactionThe first was a strong perception across many survey respondents that interactions between biomanufacturers and suppliers at the quality management system level are not optimal. Specific comments said that delays in supply change notifications are often too late to plan for, that suppliers and biomanufacturers may have different standards in quality systems, and there is a need for proactive communication about changes. “Interactions are unlikely to ever be classed as optimal and so will be an ongoing need,” said Bob Brooks, BioPhorum Supply Partner Leader. “But the survey shows the strength of feeling at the current time and that people understand that more work needs to be done in this space.”
Supply change notificationAs well as the need to improve document harmonization and validation, supply change notifications were seen as a significant area for improvement. Respondents were concerned about the volume of change notifications, how they could be better managed, if there was a way they could be processed more quickly and whether the process was as efficient as possible.
“There has obviously been an increase in the number of supply change notifications being raised during the pandemic as people looked for alternate sources of materials when things became unavailable,” Brooks explained. “Biomanufacturers have often been swamped with these increased numbers, so maybe industry should look for a better way of dealing with them. This is why BioPhorum has recently published two papers on supply change notifications, one on single-use systems and the other on raw materials.”
BottlenecksWhen thinking about what significant changes are needed across the biopharmaceutical industry, respondents’ comments included the need for best practices on supply chain resilience and consideration of the impact on industry-wide planning and sourcing strategies. Identifying supply chain bottlenecks was also a common survey concern that could affect industry’s rapid scale-up – followed by their impact on sourcing strategies. “The extra stress put on the inbound supply chain by the pandemic has created some interesting bottlenecks that may have been a surprise to some,” said Brooks. “Over the evolving pandemic, PPE was in short supply at the start and then later some basic chemicals and salts. There is also a prevalent issue on the availability of single-use system components and increasing lead times, which led to lots of shared investment by major supply partners and biomanufacturers. There are also some concerns over other raw materials, such as amino acids. “Raw materials availability is a particular concern in the Supply Partner Phorum and is reflected in our program of work,” Brooks added. “For example, the work of the Risk & Business Continuity Management Workstream is guiding industry toward a more consistent, structured approach to risk management – not only those companies that directly support manufacturing but those who source raw materials and are involved in warehousing and distribution.” The survey feedback is hugely valuable to understand transparency in the supply chain, maybe at Tiers 2 and 3. “As the pandemic lockdown start to impact, people quickly understood what materials were in immediate short supply,” added Brooks. “Single-use system components that were already stressed then became extremely short in supply and were often being allocated at a national level. Similarly, other raw materials suffered significant disruptions to their supply and availability. If we can find where the bottlenecks are, we can mitigate against them for when we might need to do a rapid scale-up again.”
Biomanufacturer actionsThe survey found that actions taken by biomanufacturers included changes in inventory policies, fast-tracking the acceptance of alternative sourced materials, and developing multiple secondary suppliers.
“There was valuable information shared by the biomanufacturers on the things they have been doing in light of the pandemic. Anecdotally, we have heard that some biomanufacturers have started more second-source projects in the last 12 months than in the previous three years. They are clearly ramping up their ability to source materials. Informally, we knew about many of these biomanufacturer actions; still, it is good to have these actions qualified by the survey and that the industry is sharing this level of information.”