Home » 12. Commercial Supply Chain

12. Commercial Supply Chain

Jag Srai


Head of the Centre for Centre for International Manufacturing, IfM, University of Cambridge

Leader, Commercial Supply Chain Platform


New technology offers many different opportunities to rethink how we manage and operate the patients’ end of the supply chain, and to try to address the challenges around making sense of what happens to medicines after they leave the factory.

The commercial supply chain platform considered how to develop a more integrated, efficient and ‘inventory light’ pharmaceutical supply chain, using analytics, design and segmentation tools. We broke the work down into seven strands as summarised opposite.


We are seeing new capabilities in design, supply chains and how digitalisation can support major strides in productivity and potentially in the operating model. The ability to integrate new chemistry with novel production processes, smart packs, lean distribution models and patient data – using mobile-phone Apps and diagnostics – offers a more ‘end-to-end’ view of a sector that is traditionally a rather fragmented network of isolated centres of expertise.


The Commercial Supply Chain Platform

Strand 1. Segmentation – supporting companies to be agile by understanding their own operations and what affects them

Analysing data in the context of the manufacturers’ individual product strategies, identifying those products where innovation and responsiveness is critical and prioritising developments in the appropriate parts of the supply chain to maximise impact.

Strand 2: Developing an asset library for use by industry

We created a library based on data from 138 companies and 34 research organisations to help companies understand which of their product and/or services to prioritise and to help identify future technical capability gaps for the sector as a whole.

Strands 3 and 4. Understanding digital transformations and making the business case for the adoption of continuous manufacturing

All industries are addressing the issue of how best to harness new technologies to develop a truly digital supply chain and the pharmaceutical sector is no exception. The team used a model developed at the IfM to frame its thinking about what a digital supply chain comprises and what sort of infrastructure it needs. From this we developed a series of scenarios across the supply chain from the digital factory, through smart packaging, smart distribution and, ultimately, to connecting with the patients. We also used this approach to create a model to inform business cases for moving to continuous manufacturing: understanding what it can deliver and under what circumstances.

Strand 5: Understanding risk

Our work to identify, quantify and predict supply chain risk, augmented by an examination of the relationships and interdependencies between risks, is playing a part helping the industry to create more robust and resilient operations.

Strand 6: Downstream supply – analysing the triggers of surpluses, shortages and failures

For the first time, we were able to map complex distribution networks to identify connections, misalignments and communication failures. Then, with the help of Alliance Healthcare and life sciences logistics specialist, DHL, we looked at downstream integration, adopting approaches used in FMCG and retail to model the impact on networks of adopting a direct-to-patient approach.

Strand 7: Supporting patient compliance

One of the challenges faced by the healthcare sector is the lack of patient compliance with their drug regimes. The team developed a mobile phone app that can be used in addition to the printed patient leaflet that accompanies all medicines. The app allows patients to customise the information so that it appears in the language of their choice, for example, or at a font size they can read comfortably.