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In early November, Supply Chain Matters provided commentary and observations on the rather widespread problem involving counterfeit and bogus parts within the supply chains of multiple industries.  The observations came after my attendance at an all-day symposium held by the MIT Forum for Supply Chain Innovation.

Two of the sessions in the MIT forum focused on the developing problem within pharmaceutical supply chains, and specifically efforts from individual companies to address the upcoming mandate for item-level serialization, as legislated by the State of California.   The takeaway I came away with was that lack of consensus on industry-wide tracking standards was a significant challenge in fostering further individualized initiatives.

An article published by World Trade Magazine outlines how a partnership between Genzyme and UPS to pilot drug serialization is about to go-live.  The lessons learned should be important reading for many residing in pharmaceutical supply chains.

The article itself is authored by Dan Gagnon, a Marketing Director at UPS.  It should therefore be no surprise that there may be a bit of boasting included.  For instance, the article indicates the this specific serialization initiative is an industry first.  Actually it is not.  At the last MIT Forum, I viewed a presentation from the supply chain manager for German based drugmaker Bayer AG, outlining Bayer and other European company initiatives to pilot and deploy item level tracking and serialization programs in Turkey and other EU countries.

That however should not deter from the important lessons brought out in the Genzyme / UPS initiative.  They include a validation that selection of the right technology is a rather critical consideration.  The Genzyme team selected 1D and 2D barcoding over RFID because of cost and safety considerations.  Interesting enough, pilots in Europe also converged on use of 2D bar coding. Other learning notes the importance for taking a phased approach and performing a lot of comprehensive testing.  Leveraging of the serialized data captured in both inventory management and other supply chain planning applications is another important consideration.

Gagnon notes that the most important learning is that companies have much to gain by getting out ahead of mandate legislation, since the Genzyme initiative took more than a year and a half to complete.  Also keep in mind that UPS is one rather savvy and experienced user of advanced technology, and in my opinion, the initiative may have well taken longer without the expertise of a UPS.

A final note from this author is that many in pharma have the belief that item-level tracking legislation enforcement will have to be delayed because of any industry-wide adoption of a common standard.  As has occurred with other technology-enabled tracking initiatives, as Genzyme, Bayer and others in the industry become much more active in piloting and adoption, technology standards will tend towards those most adopted by the vested players.

Congratulations to the Genzyme / UPS teams for these efforts.

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: Kinaxis is one of other paid sponsors on the Supply Chain Matters blog.