The role of IRT in Environmental Sustainability Goals

Plastic Polluted Ocean
Environment Pollution

IRT and Drug Supply Planning make significant impacts on your company's Sustainability Goals

S-Clinica attended the Informa IRT Conference on 21st October 2021 to present a high level view of how IRT and Drug Supply Forecasting, Planning and Management impacts sustainability goals for Pharma.​ The link to the recording is here.


A summary of what is covered in the presentation is:

  • Hear how IRT and Supply Forecasting, Planning and Management impacts your sustainability goals.​

  • Environmental Sustainability in the Pharmaceutical Industry: What, where and when? A snapshot of where we are right now in Pharma.

  • Supply Chain and Sustainability goals, hand-in-hand: What is the impact of the supply chain to a company's Environmental Sustainability goals and vice-versa?

  • IRT's role and the impact of more advanced systems: What part does IRT play and what are the advantages of more advanced systems?

If you prefer to read about the impact instead of watching a video, then read on for a high level view here.

Sustainability issues have gained significant awareness from Government, industries, organisations and the public over the last couple of decades, with the growing realisation that we have reached a crisis point with only limited years available now to make a difference before the damage to our world becomes irreversible.


The consultancy firm, McKinsey, says that 90% of companies’ impact on the environment comes from their supply chain, and they also talk about the link to investors, impact on growth and shareholder returns. In addition to that, the World Economic Forum reports that responsible procurement practices can:

  • Raise revenue by 5-20%, 

  • Reduce supply chain costs by 9-16%

  • Increase brand value by 15-30%


In our industry, responsible businesses are acting right now. They’ve set ambitious goals in the race to stem the tide of destruction and irreversible change that’s been happening and been predicted over the next ten to twenty years.
Just as an example of the commitment from our industry, this is a snapshot of the members of the Pharma Supply Chain Institute who promote responsible supply chains through collaboration. 
Whilst today’s presentation focuses on Net Zero and Net Positive goals in clinical trial supply, when I spoke with them recently, they talked about how their members collaborate and share information to make real differences towards sustainability, working to make positive impacts in the key areas of Ethics, Human Rights and Labour, Health and Safety, Environment and Management Systems.
This is an amazing initiative and if you’re a Sponsor, I strongly recommend you join them. When you get a copy of this presentation, this slide links directly to their website.<Click>
I picked out an example of how Sponsors are making an impact already, and GSK kindly gave permission to share this infographic with you. As you can see, GSK have been working on their goals since 2010 and have reduced their carbon emissions by 34%, waste to landfill by 78% and water usage by 31%. Their goal Is to be Net Zero on climate by 2030.
This is just a snapshot since their annual report and website goes into significant extra detail on their commitment and goals. As you saw on the previous slide, they’re also involved in PSCI and you’ll find, not surprisingly, that they’re involved in many initiatives all over the world. 
For anyone formulating their own sustainability strategy, I have no doubt that following GSK’s lead or joining initiatives such as PSCI will be a huge help.<click>
From a clinical trials supply chain perspective, what are some of the factors that impact environmental sustainability?
Well, in addition to the usual supply chain operations, there was already a move towards personalised medicine which led to increased direct-to-patient deliveries, but with the pandemic and the major shift to Decentralised Trials, Direct-to-Patient deliveries have obviously increased exponentially.
With global supply chain disruption and materials shortages, amongst the many issues that are impacting us now, unprecedented levels of uncertainty have been introduced into supply chain planning. <click>
Add to that that, year-on-year, the number of trials is increasing, so the challenges faced are multiplied as well. This chart has data captured here from clinical website <pause>
This is especially fascinating, considering the number of studies that were put on hold or cancelled last year. <click>
So, with Sponsors looking to balance their commercial needs with increased operational efficiencies and alignment with their sustainability goals, planning is critical to achieving all of these.
Digging a little deeper, the most obvious impact will be in these areas: <click>
Planning and Forecasting, as mentioned and we’ll touch on this further shortly. <click>
Supply Management concerns <click>
Study interruption <click>
New set-up delays <click>
Disruption to the supply chain, as we’re seeing in certain parts of the world, most obviously within the US and UK <click>
Delays in therapies or medication <click>
Impact to the patients, which at worst could lead to critical treatments being missed, patient retention being impacted in studies or severe study disruption <click>
Compliance issues <click>
Cancelled, delayed or failed studies. In 2020, over 1000 studies were cancelled or frozen due to COVID. This also had an impact on research sites from a cash flow perspective, leading to the potential threat of a reduced pool of sites to work with as time goes on, something planners and study managers will definitely need to be aware of. <click>
What about new technology offerings? There’s also the potential disruption of implementing new technology to facilitate decentralised trials. <click>
How about scalability? The resources sponsors have, have’nt always matched the need to support more complexity, or growth, so is the answer to hire more full time employees as well? <click>
And finally on this slide, can the potentially aggressive sustainability goals be reached?
These are really good questions.<click>
Underlying factors to all of these include the:
Complexity from the sheer number of internal and external stakeholders that planning teams need to take into account. As an industry, we rely heavily on collaboration and partnerships to succeed within the clinical trials ecosystem, however…
Communication across all parties can be a challenge leading to a certain amount of uncertainty in that critical element for planning and decision making, data.
And the speed and efficiency of the decision making process are also affected by the tools available to make that data useful for decision making.
<click>SLIDE 9
The impact of planning changes and the overall management of drug supply has a significant knock on effect to your supply chain partners. They obviously rely on the directions and decisions that they receive from Sponsors, directly or indirectly. 
Less journeys or better planned journeys = lower emissions.
Considering the supply chain contributes an average of 90% to a Sponsor’s sustainability goals, and the fact that decentralised trials has led to an unprecedented increase in Direct to Patient requirements and deliveries, the impact may be more than most people realise.
Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time in trucks, trailers, distribution centres and their yards working to help them increase efficiencies, improve throughput, reduce emissions and manage costs, the level of detail that your partners commit to is eye-opening.
From engine idling time in a vehicle, to the amount of pressure put on the accelerator pedal, the height of a trailer to improve loading and offloading times, time spent waiting at the gatehouse of a distribution centre, efficiencies in dynamically planning routes, collaboration with multiple logistics operators to reduce empty loads, the list really does go on.
From a Net Zero perspective, For every journey made, the figure of 2.63 Kg of carbon for every litre/liter of diesel used is a standard calculation. That’s just under 22 lbs per gallon of diesel
This does’nt include the additional diesel needed for temperature-controlled units.
The industry has committed to  sustainability goals.
The transformation need is significant, but it’s also legally required (Paris Climate Accords, for example). A shift to new technologies is happening, but will take time because Infrastructure changes are needed
The Technology available is not quite there yet for Heavy Goods Vehicles since electric powered tractors have limitations that will be a challenge, particularly in the US where longer hauls are required.
The move to electricity and gas powered solutions requires investment, time and change.
Early adopters of different technology include Waste Management in the US who also provide services to the Pharma industry. They have the nation’s largest renewable natural gas fleet. 
<click>SLIDE 10
In order to achieve a clinical trial’s goals, planning and managing the unknown, and meeting sustainability goals, this is where appropriate IRT and Supply Forecasting, Planning and Management tools come into their own. 
The good thing is that any professional planning and supply chain operation have, for the most part, always been very focused on efficiency improvements. This means that in principle, the alignment of their goals is already very close to sustainability goals. 
As mentioned, I’ve been in and around supply chain for a while and in the early days I saw planning initiatives where handwritten reports had to be analyzed manually every week in the pursuit of making operational improvements, even when spreadsheets were available. I’m talking about two and a half feet of paperwork for one distribution centre alone to be analysed every week by two people over 3 days, and even then they only managed to get through around 30% of the paperwork. Spreadsheets came next and are still used today, even with the limitations and risks associated with them. Software tools have been introduced over the years as well, which then evolved into the IRT and planning solutions that are seen today. 
That digital transformation started decades ago and whilst that technology has evolved, not all systems are created equal. I think it’s true to say that there are still many systems available where the technology or algorithms used were not designed to handle heavy complexity before the pandemic, let alone now with all the changes seen in the last couple of years.
<click> With an appropriate IRT and Supply planning system, if it’s advanced enough it will have a significant impact on your study, supply chain and sustainability goals.
You should expect to have a system that will: <click>
Provide the best possible options for your team’s decision making by
handling complexity across all study phases at any point in time,
It should be able to do that very quickly as well. Ideally you need a system that will generate multiple scenarios to help your team’s decision making which in turn will have an impact on your supply chain partners.
The ability to anticipate and reduce risks is not baked into all systems, so if you don’t have this, then you can expect to need additional tools or more manual effort to compensate for the shortfall. <click>
A solid planning system will reduce shipments, directly impacting sustainability goals. Your supply chain partners will have their own planning resources as well, to make their deliveries more efficient, however the initial requirements that you provide them are the foundation of their activity and directly impacts efficiencies and the overall sustainability goals. <click>
The systems will reduce waste by anticipating: Delays in therapies/medication
Cancelled, delayed or failed studies – Reduce waste
Disruption to the supply chain
Study interruption <click>
Good systems will provide you with scalability. This cannot be underestimated. I worked on a major non-clinical trial project  in pharma traceability and accountability last year where an average Sponsor would potentially need to scale up from 5 to 42 employees if they didn’t use a tool that could help them automate and scale. With the right software, they could maintain the same headcount they started with. Whilst I don’t see the same level of scalability needed in clinical trials, the example is still valid.
The bottom line is, using an appropriate IRT and Supply planning tools is critical to success in most cases.
If a system is not advanced enough, you will need to bear in mind that shortfalls are usually compensated by manual effort or additional tools, all at additional cost, risk and inefficiencies.
Where possible, you should really use tools that can handle complexity, preferably of any kind, and the more powerful the system you use to help you, obviously the better your results will be, getting you closer to the goals you have within your studies, your efficiency goals and your company’s sustainability goals.
It’s worth noting that more powerful does not mean more expensive. Our system definitely sits in that category. <click>
So, IRT and Supply Planning systems can help, but what else do you need to start?
Well, first of all, it’s important to understand that tthese systems are there to compliment your team and resources. The better the input they provide, the more these tools will help you, depending on the capability of the tools since not all systems are created equal.
The more visibility, communication and collaboration you can achieve across your internal and external stakeholders, the better the data will be that you input into the IRT and Supply Planning. They can provide you with the ‘known’ data, and actually, to a degree, they can also guess at potential risks that an advanced system can generate scenarios from which will help your team make the best possible decisions. <click>
So, just to summarize and close,
Supply chain efficiency is well aligned with Sustainability Goals.
Better communication leads to cleaner data being fed into tools leading to better decision.
Better tools handling better data leads to better decisions.
IRT will help you achieve your study, planning and sustainability goals
More efficiency, speed, accuracy and lower costs
I hope that you have found this session informative. Although we have a Q&A session now, I am more than happy to discuss any aspects of this topic with you, so please do not hesitate to contact me. When you receive a copy of this presentation, my contact details are included at the end, along with a slide with very high-level advice on how best to choose an IRT and Supply planning system.
Thank you again.