Pfizer injects cloud computing into complex supply chain

Pfizer has treated the complications of its supply chain with doses of cloud computing, virtualization and other tools, enabling the drug giant to track shipments from a large network of internal and external sources with improved efficiency and accuracy, The Financial Times reports.

As the FT reports, Pfizer ($PFE) has reconfigured its IT systems for managing its supply chain over the past year and a half in response to a variety of challenges. For instance, the company's megamerger with Wyeth in 2009 brought its own integration challenges. More recently, the company's top-selling cholesterol drug Lipitor faces pricing pressure because of new generic competition, forcing Pfizer to adopt measures to supply the pill as efficiently as possible.

Supply-chain problems carry consequences for drugmakers and potentially patients. Patients depend on the drugs ferried along supply chains to treat serious conditions and drugmakers risk losing revenue when shipments fail to arrive or other issues arise in their supply chains. In some cases, pharma manufacturers adopt new software and infrastructure to manage their supply chains with an eye toward eventual cost-savings as well as improved regulatory compliance.

And supply-chain or logistics software that doesn't work right can cause big problems. AstraZeneca ($AZN) has reduced its revenue projections for the year 1% after software problems at a plant in Sweden backed up supplies intended for emerging markets. Novartis ($NVS) recently had to undertake a GMP investigation for the European Medicines Agency and the Agenzia Italiana del Farmaco in Italy after a "data-handling discrepancy caused some vaccines to be temporarily and voluntarily held for several months."

"After the Wyeth acquisition, we looked at the complexity of our network and realized that we not only needed to manage the tapestry of internal manufacturing and logistic sites, we also needed to manage and really understand what's going on with our external trading partners," said Jim Cafone, Pfizer's vice president of supply network services, as quoted by the FT.

Pfizer opted to adopt a cloud-based supply-chain platform from GT Nexus as part of an overall approach that allows everyone involved in the company's supply chain to connect to the system regardless of each sites' own IT infrastructure, according to the FT article. And rather than the company's 500 partners having to adopt Pfizer's resource planning software, the groups all use the same information exchange framework that lets them send and receive data from Pfizer and vice versa.

- get more in the FT article

Editor's note: FiercePharmaManufacturing editor Eric Palmer contributed to this report.