Delivering on the vast potential of personalised medicine

Personalised medicine not only presents a huge opportunity for the medical world, it also opens doors for industries not traditionally associated with healthcare, such as logistics

Patients in the 21st century have joined an increasingly visible group of ‘empowered consumers’. These consumers are tech-savvy, informed, hands-on, global and increasingly in control of when, where and how they are treated.

Personalised medicine is the result of these empowered patients seeking higher standards of care and the rapid adoption of new techniques in genomic and proteomic science. Defined as “the right treatment for the right person at the right time,” it takes into account patients’ genetic profiles and predictive reactions to treatments, which, driven by clinical trials, dramatically increase the efficacy of treatments and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

Treatments of critical illnesses such as Alzheimer’s have transformed into a participatory process. People fearing they are at risk of inheriting this disease no longer content themselves with awaiting what might or might not come. With information once only accessible to healthcare professionals, these people, now on their own initiative, request for advanced screening techniques and experimental treatments.

Personalised medicine not only presents a huge opportunity for the medical world, it also opens doors for industries not traditionally associated with healthcare. Fast becoming a lucrative industry, the global personalised medicine market is forecast to reach $2.4 trillion through 2022 at a CAGR of 11.8%—more than double the projected 5.2% annual growth for the overall healthcare sector. India has set itself the ambitious goal of becoming a global genomics hub. The country’s Department of Biotechnology aims to ramp up total biotech revenue by more than tenfold to $100 billion by 2025.

Since the nature of personalised medicine is complex, in order to realise this potential the healthcare sector must look beyond its borders and rely on cross-sector collaboration. Driving further innovation and greater efficiency will require the skills and resources of the entire ecosystem—from regulators to manufacturers to suppliers. Swiftly moving a biomarker produced in the US or Europe to a patient in India for much-needed screening for cancer, for example, would otherwise be impossible.

So, the logistics industry emerges as an important stakeholder. Its expertise in managing complex supply chains is key for the healthcare sector to adapt to new market realities and harness the opportunities caused by this disruption.

How supply chain enables greater possibilities

Personalised medicine can be expensive. Regulators’ demands for rigorous clinical studies, and the need for diagnostic tests to track a treatment’s efficacy, impose immense development costs, which impact margins for healthcare players and affordability for patients.
One area that can ease these cost pressures is the supply chain, which currently represents 25% of pharma costs and over 40% of medical device costs. Even minor efficiency gains from shortened manufacturing lead times and slashed inventory levels could free up billions of dollars for the industry.
In the pharma industry, the replenishment lead time from plant to distribution centre is 75 days on average. Agile supply management processes will ensure shorter replenishment lead times, thereby avoiding critical stockouts.

Guaranteeing the integrity of personalised medicine shipments is as important as it is challenging; for instance, autologous cell therapy products, which are developed from the patient’s own cells. Since the products are fully personalised, any damage during the shipping process, however minor, could be life-endangering. Logistics providers have developed solutions to address such risks. One example is SenseAware, which provides near real-time visibility into a shipment’s location, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, etc, while in transit. In fact, this also allows for a quick response when issues arise.
Biologics, a key component of personalised medicine, require reliable cold chain logistics to maintain quality throughout entire journey. This reliability becomes even more important as the healthcare sector looks to emerging markets, where warm climates and large distances add to the existing challenges. Consequently, cold chain logistics in India is forecast to grow by 27% annually through 2019.

Cadence Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company, is one of the many that benefit from cold chain logistics. They managed to expedite a massive 106-pallet shipment of their acetaminophen injection from Anagni in Italy to Memphis in the US, using our integrated air-and-ground cold chain solutions, which include a Boeing 777 freighter equipped with controlled room temperature, thermal blankets as well as customs clearance support. The result is they successfully captured the overwhelming demand for their product through an improved response time, and at a decreased cost.

As patients become increasingly informed and empowered, the challenges are mounting for personalised medicine and supply chains that serve as their lifelines. To bring to fruition the vast potential of this fast-emerging sector, healthcare players must work in harmony with their industry peers, governments and logistics providers. The benefits will be seen not just in the bottom lines of businesses and more ground-breaking innovations, but, critically, in the well-being of millions of patients.

Richard W Smith

The author is vice-president of Global Trade Services, FedEx Express

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First published on: 31-05-2016 at 07:23 IST