Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the “cold chain” has become a hot topic in the pharma industry. The term relates to items that must be kept in cold storage, such as vaccines, which need to be kept at ultra-low temperatures to remain effective. Innovations in the pharmaceutical supply chain can also have positive side effects for other industries; breakthroughs are often first made in the pharma industry and then branch out to other industries. This is due to the size, complexity, cost, and relevance of the pharma supply chain.
The Rise Of The Pharmaceutical Cold Chain
The importance of the pharmaceutical cold chain can’t be underestimated. In many ways, this industry is unlike all others. It’s large, has many different components, is extremely regulated, due to its sensitive nature, and is highly advanced and complex in terms of supporting software. It’s an area with many moving parts.
In 2020, the pharmaceutical industry was worth over $1.27 trillion. This figure is expected to increase. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a spiked increase in cold chain storage technology, there are other illnesses that demand cold chain storage. The majority of cold chain logistics mainly take place over the ocean. If speed is a priority, then airplanes are also used, but typically as a second option. Shipping cargo by air has declined considerably in recent years due to the cost involved. Air cargo is also subject to different temperatures, and even with cold storage technology, it’s harder to maintain temperature consistency.
A Deeper Look At The Pharmaceutical Cold Chain
In 2015, 31% of pharmaceutical cold chain products were chilled and 17% were frozen while in transit. Chilled items are kept at a temperature of 2°C to 8°C. If these products freeze or became too hot, they are rendered less effective or completely useless.
Some products need to be transported frozen at temperatures below minus 15°C. The danger here is that a product might thaw out and then refreeze. None of this can be seen with the naked eye, which is why a monitoring system needs to be in place to automatically detect if the temperature goes outside a certain range. The area also needs to be clean and spacious enough for specific types of products to go in separate areas.
How important is the pharmaceutical cold chain?
In 2019, the pharmaceutical cold chain accounted for over 26% of the entire pharmaceutical industry. That’s incredibly significant when you consider the size of the industry. If products cannot be kept within a certain temperature, it would not only result in serious, widespread health damage but also enormous financial losses to manufacturers and industries.
The importance of the pharmaceutical cold chain is only increasing with time. Across the globe, we are becoming more and more reliant on this technology. It is critical for food and health products, and it also supports a number of side industries that bolster the economy in a big way.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increased legislation to govern the pharmaceutical cold chain. The FDA and the CGMP issue guidelines relating to safe and effective storage and distribution. The International Air Transport Association also has its own set of guidelines with respect to Temperature Control Regulations.
Data Loggers And Quality Assurance
All of the available jurisdiction guidelines highlight the importance of having a high-quality quality assistance program. This tracks the temperature and other metrics of a healthcare item, from creation to last-mile delivery. Temperature data loggers are extremely useful, as they track the environment to see if the temperature is within range. If not, an alert gets sent out. These loggers also track for how long the temperature went out of a given range.
Dickson Data has shared that, for many different reasons, the pharmaceutical cold chain is likely to grow in the coming years, highlighting the role that data loggers and Web3 analytics will have to play. With real-time integration and automatic uploading, meeting compliance requirements and ensuring product safety will be far more efficient.
The Future Of The Pharmaceutical Cold Chain
If recent evidence is anything to go by, reliance on the cold chain is only going to increase. There are many permutations of the COVID-19 virus, as well as many other health concerns in the decade ahead. The pharmaceutical cold chain holds the key to fast and cost-effective transportation of a number of items that will be needed to fight these concerns. In this industry, speed and efficiency will literally be the difference between life and death.