Pharmaceutical supply chain models: A synthesis from a systems view of operations research

Ettore Settanni, Tomás Seosamh Harrington, Jagjit Singh Srai

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This research evaluates reconfiguration opportunities in Pharmaceutical Supply Chains (PSC) resulting from technology interventions in manufacturing, and new, more patient-centric delivery models. A critical synthesis of the academic and practice literature is used to identify, conceptualise, analyse and categorise PSC models. From a theoretical perspective, a systems view of operations research is adopted to provide insights on a broader range of OR activities, from conceptual to mathematical modelling and model solving, up to implementation.

The research demonstrates that: 1) current definitions of the PSC are largely production-centric and fail to capture patient consumption, and hence healthcare outcomes; 2) most PSC mathematical models lack adequate conceptualisation of the structure and behaviour of the supply chain, and the boundary conditions that need to be considered for a given problem; 3) models do not adequately specify current unit operations or future production technology options, and are therefore unable to address the critical questions around alternative product or process technologies; 4) economic evaluations are limited to direct costing, rather than systemic approaches such as supply chain costing and total cost of ownership.

While current models of the PSC may help with the optimisation of specific unit operations, their theoretical benefits could be offset by the dynamics of complex upstream (supply) and downstream (distribution and healthcare delivery) systems. To overcome these limitations, this research provides initial directions towards an integrated systems approach to PSC modelling. This perspective involves problem conceptualisation and boundary definition; design, formulation and solution of mathematical models, through to practical implementation of identified solutions. For both academics and practitioners, research findings suggest a systems approach to PSC modelling can provide improved conceptualisation and evaluation of alternative technologies, and supply network configuration options.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-95
Number of pages22
JournalOperations Research Perspectives
Early online date24 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Supply networks
  • Modelling
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Critical interpretative synthesis

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