Express Pharma

Collaboration, tech driving business innovation in life sciences sector

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As the resilience of life sciences companies continues to be tested, there is no dearth of technologies to strengthen the ecosystem. But do pharma honchos see enough value and ROI to onboard such systems? In the first of a series of thought leadership round tables, hosted by Express Pharma, as part of SAP India’s Industry Knowledge Exchange (IKEX) Series, in partnership with the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), life sciences leaders share insights on major pain points and some solutions

With a perfect storm of virus variants, geopolitical instability and stagflation, and much more, brewing, how do life sciences leaders transform their enterprises into more resilient and flexible entities?

Continuing the partnership with the Industry Knowledge Exchange (IKEX) Series, in association with the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) and SAP India, Express Pharma is organising a series of Thought Leadership Round Tables for pharma leadership across key functional areas. The aim is to understand their concerns and search for collective learnings and synergies.


Focusing on the theme, Driving Business Innovation in Life Sciences, the consensus at two recent engagements, (Bengaluru, May 11, 2022, followed by Mumbai, May 19) was that though the sector is faced with a plethora of opportunities, the challenge is to choose the right one, and the right path, to maximise chances of success.

Leaders at the Bengaluru round table spanned contract research (Dr Mahesh Bhalgat, COO, Syngene), big biopharma (Krishna Sai T, Head IT, Biocon), contract biopharma manufacturing (Sanjay Lodha, VP – Operations, Kemwell Biopharma), as well as supply chain and operational heads from pharma (Rajesh Kshirsagar, COO, and Jitendra Patel, Supply Chain Head, Micro Labs and Shailesh Siroya – Managing Director, and Bharath Bhushan D V – M&A and Investor Relations, Bal Pharma).

Round 2 in Mumbai had a similar mix, with stalwarts like Arvind Agarwal, CFO, Ajanta Pharma; Nihar Medh, Sr VP SCM, Global Head of Procurement, Cipla; Rohit Chugh, Head -Digital Transformation, Sun Pharma; Manish Kishore, Global Head – IT, Wockhardt; and Pankaj Agarwal, Operational Excellence, Lupin with Sudarshan Jain, Secretary-General, IPA giving an industry overview on recent policy interventions.


From challenges …

Supply chain and operational heads like Lodha of Kemwell Biopharma spoke about the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, when India’s dependence on consumables like filters and raw materials crucial to the production of COVID-19 vaccines and other bio-therapeutics, created a backlog in production schedules and increased costs. The uncertainty of supplies and increase in freight surcharges, sometimes upto 12 per cent of the value of the consignment, led to the realisation that manufacturing of these inputs, be it equipment or ingredients, needed to shift to India.


However, this is easier said than done. Veterans like Agarwal of Lupin pointed how setting up API plants in the country has been next to impossible, resulting in India’s dependence on imports.


Micro Labs’ Kshirsagar spoke of how lead times increased, as pharma companies cannot change vendors as easily as other manufacturing sectors, due to regulations. The shortage of shipping containers continues even today, with delays of 45-60 days. His colleague Patel recalled how input costs increased prices while Bal Pharma’s Siroya commented on how the volatility impacted the ability to quote rates in tenders.


All spokespersons agreed that the regulatory diktat to trace the route of synthesis of each ingredient, after the nitrosamines linked to cancer were found in some input ingredients, added another layer of challenge. Supply chain disruptions constrained pharma companies to search and switch vendors.


Talking about the challenges of using digitisation strategies to meet these challenges, Biocon’s Krishna Sai pointed out that this magnified the need for documentation especially when companies change vendors due to scarcity. In the same vein, Wockhardt’s Manish Kishore highlighted the impact of dead inventory in the supply chain and the need to connect 3PLs across the chain.

… to innovative collaborations

But these constraints led companies to dig deeper for insights to find a way around these blocks. For instance, Dr Bhalgat spoke about how technology can be used to understand which ports are less congested than others so that supplies can be re-routed. He also commented about how technology is also being used for looking at equipment efficiency and making equipment monitoring automated and round-the-clock therefore permitting early interventions.

As companies chase limited input ingredients and the like, Medh pointed out that while companies continue to compete, the benefits of collaborating to sort out supply chain issues could perhaps be one of the biggest learnings of the pandemic.

Chugh highlighted that achieving scale, compared to peers in countries like China, was another big challenge. He also emphasised on the use of new technology- blockchain which holds a lot of promise in the pharma value chain to address the issues of counterfeit medicine and provenance. The overall thought process of implementing ‘digital transformation’ and how to bring about cult