Supply Chain Council of European Union |

The Future Of The Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

Serialization data resulting from global regulatory requirements has created the ideal opportunity to establish an end-to-end value network that generates transformative value from this data across all segments of the pharmaceutical supply chain. In fact, the supply chain management market is on pace to exceed $19 billion by 2021.1 This is driven by the huge amounts of data collected as more connections across all segments of the supply chain are established.

Visibility into and across the supply chain is the key to unlocking any value-based digital initiative—there are enormous industry benefits to be had in breaking down data and communication silos and being able to connect and exchange information on one network platform.

This article discusses how serialization has opened the door for digitally enabled visibility, how other market shifts are heightening the demand for a more streamlined, integrated, and responsive end-to-end supply chain and how a network platform can enable this demand.

Traditionally, the life sciences industry has been slow to adopt digital transformation and innovation, particularly compared to other industries. Breaking away from linear supply chain models has been challenging, in large part because of the silos and hesitancy around information sharing. 

However, we are starting to see a shift, as every company today is looking to transform their supply chains to holistically improve business performance and build new capabilities. Disruptive new technologies are emerging as industry leaders begin to see “supply chain” as the business operating model, not just a linear set of point to point connections and a means of efficiently moving materials.

TraceLink has created the world’s largest network of pharmaceutical supply chain partners, consisting of over 275,000 members. Members establish connections with each other on the network, and the TraceLink Platform enables seamless information exchange up and down the supply chain. This is a game-changer for the industry, with a digital network platform not only driving efficiencies in logistics and compliance, but opening up new opportunities that have never been feasible, such as an entirely digital drug recall process.

Currently, the drug recall process is quite fragmented and manual. If this process is digitalized, and all parties involved in the recall process are on one network, digital information sharing would allow the process to become much more efficient. It’s a culture shift. The barriers tend to fall down once the evidence of the network value becomes apparent.

Additionally, with a digital network platform that holds not only serialization data, but integrated data from things like enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and RFID sensors, all rich with data, in the coming years, applications will be able to be built using next generation technologies that will further support a digital transformation.

One of the most talked about areas of potential is applications that utilize artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), that will enable businesses to detect patterns they didn’t even know existed. AI in the supply chain is still in its early stages, but when trained, AI can help businesses mine data lakes to answer questions, solve problems and chart the course for future success. With AI’s ability to optimize data analytics, businesses will soon be able to achieve full end-to-end visibility into each product’s journey through the supply chain.

One major reason for pharmaceutical supply chain transformation is the shift in the development pipeline to personalized medicines and cell and gene therapies. As a result, supply chain and business operating model complexity is increasing and businesses across the industry are having to adapt. Pharma and biopharma businesses and their suppliers and contract partners have been, and continue to evolve in response.

If we look at personalized therapies, there is now more than ever a strong need for deep insight into how these medicines and products travel through the supply chain. Stringent adherence to logistics requirements, such as cold-chain, are critical as these drugs are life-dependent and expensive, leaving absolutely no room for error. Product quality must be perfect and temperatures must be controlled along the way to ensure product efficacy for customers.

Because of this, IoT devices are going to be playing an even larger role in the pharma industry than ever before because of their ability to allow companies to track products from manufacturing to warehouses, to final delivery, including product conditions and temperature-monitoring along the way. This can all be done through smart tracking, and in real-time.

This is evident in the industry, as Forrester has forecast that total spending on IoT technology is expected to increase to $435 billion by 2023.2 This increase in spending is largely driven by the track-and-trace sector, serialization in the pharma supply chain and the ongoing digitalization of the supply chain industry.

While digital supply chain transformation is a new and evolving concept for the pharmaceutical industry, this transformation is already happening in other industries with companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, and we need to follow suit.

All stakeholders within the pharmaceutical healthcare ecosystem have enormous digitally enabled breakthrough opportunities ahead. The benefits will not just come from a significant reduction in traditional technology, data integration complexity and its constraining implications as well as broken down silos, but from the economic power of scale, collaboration, responsiveness, visibility and transparency across all networked partners. 



As Senior Vice President of Engineering, John Hogan leads product design, development, and testing of TraceLink products and solutions, ensuring the seamless processing and tracking of high-volume, highly distributed events, and facilitating shared customer value up and down the supply chain.

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