ETH Zurich conducts research into resilience of pharma supply chains

22 January 2024 09:31

Zurich CCGreater Zurich

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Zurich - Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have developed a navigation system that helps to avoid supply chain bottlenecks for medication. They have shown that supply chains are more resilient depending on how flexibly wholesalers can switch to alternative distribution channels.

In a recently published study, a research team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) has demonstrated how supply chain bottlenecks for medication can be avoided. In this context, the researchers discovered that this is possible along the whole of existing supply chains. So far, according to a summary report published by ETH, the common practice adopted by wholesalers in such cases has been to procure alternative products from other manufacturers or via other supply chains on the market.

An opiate study carried out in the USA covering the years between 2006 and 2014, which has been made publicly accessible, provided the researchers with logistics data from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration; a US federal law enforcement agency) for 40 billion distribution routes between manufacturers, wholesalers and buyers. “This dataset offers an unprecedented overview of the nationwide distribution of a high-​demand drug which, over the observation period, was repeatedly in short supply”, explains Luca Verginer, co-author of the study.

The study makes it clear that even if several wholesalers are suffering from delivery bottlenecks, there tends to still be sufficient medications available in the overall distribution system. If wholesalers can redirect these as flexibly as possible along existing and digital supply chains, bottlenecks can be delayed and the impacts mitigated. However, this situation also means a trade-off must be accepted, as the additional middlemen involved in the process drive up prices of the medication.

Frank Schweitzer, Professor of Systems Design at ETH Zurich, has developed a model with his research group that measures the flexibility of distribution systems used in the pharma industry in real time, thereby determining their resilience. This model could also help regulatory authorities in Europe to detect supply bottlenecks before they materialize and strengthen the resilience of distribution systems. ce/mm

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