The pharmaceutical cold chain logistics industry is not like any other logistics industry. It is not only vast and complex but also contributes towards life-saving initiatives.
Several factors have triggered massive demand for cold chain logistics for the pharmaceutical industry.
The growing usage of temperature-sensitive biopharmaceuticals and biosimilars worldwide and the higher consumption of advanced medications in emerging markets drive the growth of the pharmaceutical cold chain logistics industry.
There has been a rising demand for many kinds of drugs to combat the increasing number of chronic and lifestyle-related diseases. Demand for over-the-counter medicines such as vitamins, minerals, cough and cold drugs, gastrointestinal medicines and dermatology products are also rising.
With the increase in the number of diseases, more cures and treatments are also increasing.
The pharmaceutical industry responds to the need by providing a broader range of pharmaceutical products, many of which need temperature-controlled transportation with proper cold chain management.
The Massive Size of the Pharmaceutical Market
Pharmaceutical exports and imports happen on a massive scale globally, and the industry is huge.
In 2019, the value of the global pharmaceutical market was around USD 1.25 trillion. The value of the market is likely to grow to over USD 1.6 trillion by 2024.
Among the growth drivers, ageing populations and new drugs to treat rare and speciality diseases are behind the market growth.
The lion share of the global revenue goes to North America and Europe. But Asia is catching up fast, with India and China becoming globally significant in raw materials and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) supply.
Types of Pharmaceuticals in Global Transport Chain
Many pharmaceutical products undergo transportation every day around the world, such as biologics, drugs, over-the-counter medicines, raw materials, and bulk pharmaceuticals.
Regardless of the form in which pharmaceuticals come, they need to be packaged correctly and securely. Usually, liquid, ointments, and solids are the main pharmaceutical firms.
Many pharmaceuticals can get damaged if they get exposed to temperature changes, sunlight, and humidity.
As such, they call for careful handling, and it is where the importance of a cold chain comes in.
Importance of the Cold Chain
Like the COVID19 vaccines, many pharmaceutical products get damaged if there is any deviation from the prescribed range’s temperature environment.
Such products call for temperature-controlled storage and distribution systems to maintain their potency.
In 2019, the global pharmaceutical cold chain industry accounted for more than 26 per cent of the total pharmaceutical market share, which is expected to increase further, given the growing demand.
There has been a steady increase in the demand for temperature-controlled products. With the development of many biological materials susceptible to temperature change, the cold chain has become necessary for their transportation.
The cold chain technology has improved to a great extent to include temperature sensors, data loggers, telematics and cloud computing solutions. As such, the modern cold chain can monitor the real-time temperature, even remotely, to ensure the temperature is within the prescribed limits.
At the final destination, such as healthcare facilities, laboratory refrigerators need to keep temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products effectively.
The Associated Challenges
With the emergence of many temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products, the need for keeping them within their prescribed temperature ranges throughout their journey should be fulfilled by transporters.
The manufacturers’ responsibility is to keep the products at the right temperature right from their production facilities to the healthcare facilities.
But, transportation of pharmaceutical products poses problems. The products that are sensitive to high temperatures can lose their effectiveness and even become toxic. And pharmaceuticals that are sensitive to low temperatures can lose their therapeutic properties if exposed to freezing temperatures.
For both categories, transportation poses a challenging affair that needs careful execution. If the temperature goes out of range during transportation, it can seriously affect people’s health and even be life-threatening.
Companies should ship them as either chilled or frozen to preserve the efficiency and potency of pharmaceutical products.
The temperature stays at the 2 to 8 degrees C range in the chilled environment, which neither freezes nor warms the transit products.
Temperatures lower than -15 degrees C create a frozen environment necessary for some pharmaceuticals to remain effective. Organs and tissues are the typical examples that require a frozen environment.
With the strict regulatory requirements and the growing need to transport advanced temperature-sensitive therapeutics, the usage of temperature-controlled containers to transport such pharmaceuticals has become prevalent among transporters.
Nowadays, pharmaceutical companies ship chilled or frozen products by the sea in reefer containers.
Reefer is the acronym for the refrigerated container, which acts more or less like a freezer.
For transporting temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products by air, transporters use cool containers.
You can regard them as temperature-controlled containers, which come in various shapes and sizes, depending on cargo and aircraft compatibility.
Cool containers for air cargo come in two types– passive and active.
Passive cool containers cannot control the internal temperature but can prevent temperature fluctuations. The cold environment comes from sources like wet ice, gel packs, dry ice, or liquid nitrogen.
But the working mechanism of active cool containers is different. They have mechanisms to track and control the internal temperature automatically.
Active cool containers have sensors, a control unit, ventilators, an air duct and a data log.
With the data log, the transporter can measure the container’s internal temperature throughout the journey, helping maintain the prescribed levels’ temperature.
The Final Words
The cold pharmaceutical chain has gained tremendous importance due to the need to transport temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals from production facilities to healthcare facilities effectively. The importance is likely to escalate further, given the widespread use of such pharmaceuticals.