It seems like quite a while since the B word was the main topic of discussion. But like it or not (probably not) on the 1st of January it is likely to have happened. When we approached the last deadline, the government encouraged Pharma companies to increase their stock to unprecedented levels. Amazingly this was accomplished pretty much across the board. Unfortunately, since then the C word has come along and turned the country and world on its head, with tragic consequences to human life.
Recent reports paint a gloomy picture for the months ahead (~85,000 deaths, no deal Brexit) and the demands on the pharmaceutical supply chain to ensure patients have the medicines they need is going to be at an unprecedented high. What plans do you have in place to get through this turbulent time and how confident are you in their success?
This is going to be a tricky task. Even without Brexit or a second wave; forecasting demand has always proven difficult. In the wake of Covid-19 however, forecasting is now even harder due to health services restarting at different rates across the UK, with variations between departments and therapies. One way to approach this challenge with some level of accuracy and confidence is to do it at the lowest possible level: hospital/Practice/Pharmacy. This though is of course more time consuming and requires more data and insight than a traditional national forecast. In addition, as field forces will have an idea of how clinics and prescribing opportunities are evolving, their inputs will need to be a vital part of the forecast.
One approach to help ensure all patients can get the medicines they need when they need them is to look at localized quotas. By this I mean setting a maximum level at which a pharmacy can buy in a given time period. I know many companies already have similar schemes in place, however this may be an ideal time to review quota limits at a pharmacy level.
I fully hope & expect pharmaceutical products to be zero tariff either through part of a trade deal or through signing up to the Pharmaceutical Tariff Elimination Agreement (although this agreement needs an update to remove all tariffs). That said in the short term we should expect disruption. During the first wave of Covid the government banned the export of several pharmaceutical products. I’d expect a similar, if not larger list when the second wave hits. One challenge we might have will be if other countries in Europe do the same in which case, we might find importing some products difficult.
Could we even consider banning the export (parallel trade type export) of products indefinitely?
So far in 2020 the UK pharma industry has shown how reactive it can be to the needs of the world, specifically the UK. As we enter this next phase of challenges, the pharma sector needs to continue to be vigilant. By getting our modelling for demand and forecasting as accurate as possible, alongside ensuring supplies are distributed fairly, we should hopefully mitigate looming supply chain issues. I’m confident that we can get through this perfect storm.