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Collaboration is the key

Delegates at the recent FlyPharma Conference determined collaboration would be their main goal for the year ahead, says Ben Hargreaves

The FlyPharma Conference 2017 took place in Brussels, Belgium, on 6-7 June in front of 100 top decision-makers within the pharmaceutical and logistics industries.

As the conference came to a conclusion, audience members were invited to offer their thoughts as to what the overall message had been from the numerous discussions that had taken place. The first answer to come back summed up the point that everyone seemed to return to either when giving their own presentations or networks: “Collaboration is the key.”


It was a fitting conclusion to an event that had brought people from around the world to engage with the biggest issues facing the pharmaceutical supply chain. Every stakeholder was represented, as delegates from airlines, logistics companies and individuals from the pharmaceutical and regulatory industries all mingled.


The diverse mix of people, professions and nationalities stimulated lively discussion, both during the event and at the dinner that followed. However, the focus always returned to how the stakeholders might reduce friction, mindful of the potential for future cooperation.

The opening keynote speech by Steef van Amersfoort, Regional Logistics Manager EMEA at AbbVie, set the benchmark for the standards that

these interconnected industries would expect of each other. He set a challenging goal for those carrying pharmaceutical cargo to attempt; that no temperature-controlled warnings would ever again be set off in a journey from one location to another.

Some argued that this standard was unachievable, but it spoke to the ambition of all in attendance that it could be considered something to aspire to. If not immediately possible, why would van Amersfoort suggest such a target?


During the course of his presentation, he reiterated numerous times that the better protected the cargo, the better protected the end consumer will be – the patient.

This was another recurring discussion within the conference – how best to always keep the end consumer, the patient, in mind. The last presentation of the conference drove this home, as Mark Paxton, Chief Executive Officer of Rx-360, detailed the risks that can occur when fake drugs make it into the supply chain.

In particular, Paxton drew on the experience of the 2008 heparin scare in the US, explaining that the case had caused real fear about the possible extent of security issues in the supply chain.

The panic occurred after the blood thinner was found to contain an unidentified substance that was causing allergic reactions and even death across the US. It later transpired that some manufacturers in China had been substituting the membranes, typically sourced from pigs, with another substance, following issues with the supply of pigs during the manufacturing process.


The issue of patient safety at the end of the supply chain was repeatedly raised. During a panel debate, its host, Hugh Williams, Managing Director at Hughenden Consulting, challenged the common assumption ‘faster is better’. After a lengthy discussion, there was almost unanimous agreement that, in fact, it was the security of the supply chain that had to be the priority to ensure that neither patients, nor stakeholders, would lose out.

Some doubts were aired as to whether it would always be viable to place the consumer at the centre of the business model. During the course of the conference, Airline Cargo Management spoke to one member of a logistics team who expressed anxieties about the focus on putting the consumer first in this way. He claimed that lowering the cost of delivering and undercutting competitors would not make for a healthy strategy, and expressed concerns that it was not sustainable in the long-term.

Offsetting this were many instances where the disruptive ability of emerging technology was on display. It was argued that these new freedoms necessitate, from a business perspective, placing the consumer in charge of how they wished to be treated. Mark Lawrence, of Collect+, warned that any business that was not able to fluidly adapt to consumer demands would find themselves left behind. He cited the case of the music industry, where young adults were choosing to download music online instead of purchasing through traditional methods, suggesting that this was a direct message to the industry to change its business model, he proposed that attendees must accommodate consumers’ expectations, or face being left behind.

Elsewhere, Jan Denecker, UPS Europe, spoke of the potential for drone delivery. He stressed that it was still far from ready but then showed a video in which such a method of delivery was being explored in Rwanda. He also explained how the ability to use data is revolutionising how temperature is controlled throughout the supply chain, using measurements of average temperature in regions to predict the necessities for transporting pharmaceuticals.


This breakdown contains only a fraction of the full discussion that took place across the duration of the event. One of the last activities on the agenda saw all attendees grouped together in round table discussions. They were then tasked with tackling several points of discussion and, symbolic of the wider event, their deliberation led to an idea being pitched across the room to Andrea Gruber, Senior Manager, Special Cargo at IATA, to improve air cargo supply chain efficiency.

Attendee feedback seemed positive overall, and while there is still a long way to go, the ideas and solutions generated at FlyPharma look likely to form the basis of collaborative progress over the coming years.

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