Pharmaceutical Cold-Chain Management: Putting Concerns on Ice

By Joyce Deuley

As pharmaceuticals become increasingly important, with the rising tide of an aging population and chronic illnesses worldwide, it will become imperative to promptly deliver life-saving medicines in peak condition. Cold-chain logistics, currently a $10 billion dollar industry, is one that has been assisting companies in this endeavor, and is expected to continue to increase in tandem with our dependency on pharmaceuticals over time.

To better ensure the security and efficacy of their assets, pharmaceutical suppliers have turned to cold-chain logistics to help manage these drugs from packaging to delivery. Unlike food products, most medicines do not show signs of damage due to temperature fluctuations, making their integrity suspect at best. This can lead to spikes in customer claims against the supplier or even death. For example: if a vaccine has become compromised during transit due to temperature and light fluctuations and loses its potency or becomes contaminated, those who receive the vaccine are vulnerable to increased risk of complications or death; thinking that they're receiving protection, but being given tainted meds instead. Similarly, the transportation of such high-value assets can present lucrative opportunities for theft and or tampering. Implementing a cold-chain management system and sensors to the shipments can prevent loss of product; reduce costs associated with damaged or compromised assets; send real-time alerts in case of fluctuations in temperature and light; as well as location-based tracking in real time, ensuring that the shipment gets to where it’s going and on time.

Several major players have rolled out pharmaceutical cold-chain logistics management solutions, including FedEx, OnAsset, UPS, and most recently, ORBCOMM. Senseaware provides global location tracking solutions, in addition to accurate temperature and light exposure monitoring, and also takes humidity and barometric pressure into account. Additionally, Senseaware customers can manage the information that is collected and share the data between business partners and other individuals or departments that need to be in the loop. OnAsset teamed up with Envirotainer, a temperature- and condition-sensing provider that specializes in pallet-sized pharmaceutical shipments. Utilizing AT&T’s Global Business Solutions service, OnAsset connects Envirotainer sensors in order to provide near real-time location tracking solutions worldwide.

ORBCOMM recently announced that its Euroscan product line of pharmaceutical cold-chain monitoring and temperature recording devices had successfully met the Good Automated Manufacturing Practice (GAMPÒ 5) guidelines, in addition to its passing of an audit conducted by the European Institute for Pharma Logistics (EIPL). This means that ORBCOMM’s thoroughly vetted services will help customers increase the traceability of their operations, monitor and report on storage conditions, as well as protect asset quality and deliver complete temperature and tamper monitoring services.

UPS, however, has a different approach to meet the rising demand for pharmaceutical cold-chain logistics: In June, UPS announced its intentions to build a healthcare distribution center following the opening of its freight facility that specializes in healthcare shipments in the Netherlands. In addition to the increase in demand and risk associated with transporting pharmaceuticals, pharma companies have transitioned from “small molecule,” chemical-based drugs to biotechnology drugs that are much more complex, such as cancer drugs and or hormones, so it is critical to better track and manage their transport. UPS’s facility is set to be complete by January 2016 and, according to Harld Peters, president of UPS in Western Europe, it will allow “shippers to comply with international healthcare quality standards and serve a broad customer base,” (Wall Street Journal).

The power of the IoT isn’t just in providing access to the data, but determining how and where we can make improvements to get what matters to the people who need it most. And like many other industries affected by the IoT, pharmaceutical cold-chain logistics cannot remain untouched by its influence. The ability to monitor and collect large data sets to improve efficiencies, reduce wastes, beef up security, as well as to ensure the quality and potency of medicines isn’t just about the bottom line, it’s about saving lives.