Offset Cold Chain Complexities with Creativity

Pharmaceutical innovations aren’t slowing down, so why should smart logistics?

In entertainment, late filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille once said, “Creativity is a drug I cannot live without.”

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Finding ways to deliver high-value pharmaceuticals requires new thinking.

The same can be said in healthcare about today’s 7 billion global healthcare consumers, who are living longer, have better access to quality care, and are demanding more choices, more convenience and better outcomes.

It’s an evolving paradigm, and finding creative ways to deliver the world’s sophisticated, high-value pharmaceuticals to emerging markets requires continuously new thinking.

Sure, the same supply chain issues will continue to pose steady challenges, cost and compliance chief among them, but leveraging cold supply chain innovations—big and small, scientific and common-sense —will produce significant gains in years to come.

[Also on Longitudes: The High Stakes in Cold Chain]

Pushing what’s possible  

The increase of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals entering the global marketplace is changing the game on how products are packaged, stored and shipped.

Also, enhanced technologies (think 3D printing and cryogenics) and patient-centric trends (think kidney dialysis and cancer screenings performed in the home setting) are shattering the status quo.

Third party logistics providers (3PLs) will be challenged more and more to keep pace as healthcare companies continue to push what’s possible. Take a look:

  • New drugs: The pace of drug innovation is not only quickening, it is becoming more specialized. A recent study by EvaluatePharma expects that by 2018, seven of the top 10 pharmaceutical drugs will be temperature-sensitive. In 2014, the FDA’s approval of orphan drugs hit a record high as well with 49 approvals—17 more approvals than 2013. Scientific progress in drug development will only continue to grow.
  • Emerging technologies: Bioprinting is just one example of technological advancements with the potential to revolutionize the surgery model. The technique makes it possible to reconstruct body parts with a bioprinter using a patient’s own cells, significantly reducing the chance of the implant being rejected by the body. While this innovation has a long way to go, interest in 3D printing with cellular material will only grow for manufacturers as a tool for gaining a competitive edge. Storing, transporting and preserving the original biomaterial with the highest standards of quality will require new solutions, a proper infrastructure and a know-how that goes beyond the traditional cold chain standards.
  • Big data: Analytics is becoming more of a hot topic in healthcare.  As the pharmaceutical supply chain evolves, big data will have greater significance. Top healthcare companies will take advantage of the predictive and prescriptive data they’ve been collecting and investing in for issues ranging from temperature tracking to warnings of drug shortages and product recalls. Manufacturers will make more use of big data to develop better therapies and leaner supply chains in the next five years. The combination of big data and the omnipresence of cheap and increasingly potent sensors in the supply chain will drive visibility to a whole new level and will unlock all sorts of new solutions that will bolster both the efficacy and the efficiency of current supply chains.
  • Cryogenics: The explosive growth of cell- and gene-based therapies requires cryogenic storage at temperatures -130°C and below. In the past, shippers heavily relied on dry ice (-78°C). Dry ice emits carbon gas, which can cause protein damage to biologic shipments, is potentially harmful to handlers and to the environment, is subject to a wide range of international regulations, and is simply not cold enough for many new specialty therapies and specimens.

Cryogenics is growing with advancements in research, technology and new therapies. One such therapy is a groundbreaking T-cell immunotherapy used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that accounts for 30 percent of all pediatric cancers.

The patient-specific T-cells must be shipped cryogenically via active LN2 container, with no room for error, making an efficient, fool-proof healthcare supply chain mission critical.

[Also on Longitudes: Revamping the Cold Chain]

Start with quality management

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Improving and maintaining quality in cold chain processes has to stay front of mind at all times.

Improving and maintaining quality in cold chain processes has to stay front of mind at all times.

While pharmaceutical companies know their internal systems, departments and trainings like the back of their hand, they may not always be fully aware of what quality management looks like from a transportation/3PL perspective in terms of cold supply chain best practices.

A company can even have an efficient logistics system, but if it is not put into practice for every shipment, every day, there is room for costly errors. Collaboration can help close the gap, whereby manufacturers and 3PLs work together to save time and money.

Sharing and brainstorming unique experiences, goals, setbacks and successes, is important for the health of the manufacturer, industry, and to millions of healthcare consumers around the world.

Take this particular case in point: A major pharmaceutical company was interested in partnering with UPS to ship biologics via air freight from the East Coast of the United States to Brazil during the week. UPS used this request as an opportunity to help the company rethink its logistics solution in a couple of ways:

  • Geo-optimization: UPS Global Freight Forwarding leveraged its knowledge of air freight market conditions to offer this pharmaceutical company the choice between a direct air connection and a multi-modal solution involving temperature controlled truck shipping to a southern gateway followed by a flight connection to Brazil. The solution was backed by a robust standard operating plan and yielded substantial cost savings.
  • Time-optimization: Leveraging their visibility over the available capacity by day of week, UPS cold chain forwarding experts were also able to propose new lift options that avoided peak days. By embracing flexibility, the company experienced major cost savings without risk to the product.

The impact was substantial. Millions of dollars were saved, no temperature excursions were experienced, and a long-term partnership was established.

Leveraging transportation lanes with higher capacity and/or a lower transportation cost, and adjusting day of the week activity and/or mitigating local peaks can ensure costs are under control and goods are properly protected. The approach is interesting and the solution is pragmatic.

Complacency is not your friend

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A product’s journey is just as important as its destination.

Managing varying weather climates, transportation modes, packaging requirements and complex regulations is an art form.

According to the most recent UPS Pain in the (Supply) Chain study results, being released in November and measures healthcare supply chain executives’ logistics challenges and opportunities, companies are reporting more success in addressing product damage and spoilage over last year.

Top reasons cited are partnering with higher-quality carriers, and using temperature monitoring devices.

One pharmaceutical manufacturer that responded to the survey made a keen observation:

“As far as our strategy for growth, managing who owns the product at what point, who is the importer of the product, the value of the product at this point for customs purposes, what jurisdictions are making the final say, etc., the interaction of supply chain with finance is probably the biggest thing that has changed over the last five years.”

In today’s dynamic marketplace, healthcare and transportation companies have an opportunity to leverage innovation and experience tremendous cost savings and quality improvements while extending life and improving its quality for the world’s population.

Remember this: A product’s journey is just as important as its destination, particularly when it comes to high-stakes, high-value drugs and specimens. As healthcare companies continue to push what’s possible, so too must 3PLs in order to provide innovative, best-in-class supply chain solutions. goldbrown2

This article first appeared on Contract Pharma


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Wanis Kabbaj is Healthcare Strategy Director at UPS. He is responsible for developing a fast-growing portfolio of transportation products, uniquely designed around the specific needs of healthcare customers with a special focus on pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device sectors.

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.