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Here are some of the major developments that are enabling the cold pharmaceutical chain and ensuring that life-preserving medicines get to their destinations on time and in the right condition.
Over the past decade, the pharmaceutical cold chain (aka, “cool chain”) has come to the forefront for both supply chain managers and the providers of packaging, logistics, and transportation services that pharma companies rely on. Coupled with advancements in technology, this raised awareness is helping pharmaceutical makers get their medicines to patients and health providers in a timely, temperature-controlled manner.
The trend is growing. By 2020, IATA predicts biopharma (a subset of the pharmaceutical industry) cold chain logistics spending will increase by 8 to 9 percent, and that biopharma sales will increase by 4 to 5 percent, according to Air Cargo World.
Europe and North America maintain the top biopharma market share at 60 percent, it says, although cold-chain logistics spending is expected to grow fastest in Asia and North America. “Rising demand is expected in the coming year from Asia,” it adds, “due to the region’s expanding middle class in developing countries and aging population in developed countries.”
Innovating in the Pharma Supply Chain
Airports, air carriers, and many third-party logistics providers (3PLs) have substantially upgraded and expanded their refrigeration storage capacity to meet the demands of today’s pharmaceutical customer, Pharmaceutical Commerce points out, “and so much so that shipments can depend more on moving from one temperature-controlled storage facility to another in the supply chain, rather than express deliveries from the manufacturer to a dispensing endpoint.”
DB Schenker recently introduced Direct Express – Australia, a time-definite, airport-to-airport, scheduled air cargo service from Chicago, IL (ORD) to Sydney, Australia (SYD). Designed to offer shippers in the fastest, most reliable air cargo service to Australia, this service is ideally suited for any industry where reliability and speed of delivery are essential to managing their supply chains. Uniquely suited for one-stop logistics in the pharmaceutical industry, Direct Express offers secure and reliable temperature controlled storage solutions on the ground in Chicago, in air, and on the ground in Sydney with a direct 777-300 freighter service to Sydney; and aircraft with payloads of over 102 metric tons.
Innovation is happening at both the “upper end” of temperature-controlled shipping (i.e., managing controlled room-temperature products in the 5-30°C regime) and at the “lower end” of temperature-controlled shipping (cryogenic containers and delivery services for the introduction of cellular and genetic therapies (CGTs) to the market), Pharmaceutical Commerce notes.
The number of new technologies being infused into the cold chain continues to proliferate. Blockchain, for example, can create a permanent and incorruptible record that tracks the physical movement of goods and that can pinpoint the entity to blame for damages incurred. Through serialization, R&D Magazine reports, blockchain can identify the transporter who was in charge when it happened, for instance, and exactly when the damage to a carton is incurred.
AI and Robotics
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another advanced technology that’s making its way into the cold pharmaceutical supply chain. “Datasets from pharmaceutical distribution are large, making the application of AI ideal for the industry,” R&D points out. “Using this data, AI has the potential to identify new and ongoing issues, empowering positive interventions to preserve shipments.”
This AI-generated data may also help third-party logistics (3PL) providers provide pharmaceutical manufacturers and other stakeholders with new levels of customer service, the publication concludes.
Finally, the pharmaceutical cold chain industry is already harnessing the power of robotics to automate a number of repeatable tasks, including the picking and packing of pharmaceuticals and the preparation of freight pallets for shipment.
“Conveyor belts and robotic pickers move cartons throughout a warehouse, from storage, and to a palletizing area,” R&D reports. “Humans then load the pallet, ready it for shipment—using plastic wrap or other protection—and then load it into a bulk shipping container for transportation to the airport.”
Ensuring the Integrity of Temperature-Sensitive Goods
Digging down deeper into the cold chain, Pharmaceutical Commerce sees more attention being paid to both the front end of the biopharma supply chain (i.e., laboratories and manufacturing facilities) and the back end or last mile (delivery of individual dosages to patients’ homes). It says data on the shipment’s condition in transit—and of the overall logistics process—is becoming a more sought-after element of supply chain management.
For example, smart devices are using Internet of Things (IoT) technology to automatically report their statuses in real time. “The reliable delivery of healthcare products can be life-saving, which is why we develop supply chain solutions that ensure that time- and temperature-sensitive products reach their destinations safely,” says DB Schenker Global Account Director Donna Lambert.
Those supply chain solutions ensure that time- and temperature-sensitive products reach their destinations safely and securely—all while product integrity is safeguarded with special handling and monitoring (including complete traceability of shipments, closed cold chain solutions for biological drugs, and compliance with all legal regulations).
“It’s about ensuring the integrity of sensitive goods,” Lambert explains, “through special handling and monitoring services.” With those innovative, integrated solutions in their corners, pharmaceutical firms can more effectively meet the demands of their changing business environments while helping to improve patients’ lives.