Pharmaceutical protection is primed for take-off

A raft of recent technological developments in pharmaceutical logistics has enabled global drug manufacturers to move temperature-sensitive consignments around the planet with new confidence. The necessity has arisen from an industry that increasingly turns to biological products to replace blockbuster drugs.

“With next-generation biopharmaceutical products, which are derived from living cells and acutely temperature sensitive, it is more important than ever to ensure the control and visibility of the cold chain during distribution. We must remember that these safeguards are there to benefit us all; it could be our family, friends or co-workers who are receiving these life-saving medications,” says Richard Wood, technical director at Softbox Systems.

With the cold chain biopharmaceutical logistics market expected to rise from $13.4 billion this year to $16.6 billion by 2021, according to Pharmaceutical Commerce, the advances in temperature control packaging (TCP) are a welcome fillip.

The material revolution is already in full swing. New TCP systems combine vacuum insulation panels and phase change materials to protect the integrity of biopharmaceuticals. They freeze and thaw in transit to regulate product environments at strictly +2C to +8C or +15C to +25C. Being recyclable and offering high performance, they also satisfy the desideratum of the industry’s sustainability initiatives.

With Skypod, pharmaceutical companies will be able to deliver medicines quickly to remote locations and in their correct state for people to use

Market leader Softbox Systems has leveraged some of these material advances in the production of their new Skypod, a thermally-insulated  packaging system designed to be carried by LTE/UAV-connected drones. After successful trials, it launches early next year. A global pharmaceutical giant originally identified the need for a solution in the wake of devastating damage and loss of life from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017.

“The big pharma company we have been working with wanted to find ways of getting medication to desperate people in disaster areas and we developed the Skypod packaging system to carry in medicines that struggled to get through in the aftermath of the hurricane,” says Mr Wood. “With Skypod, pharmaceutical companies will be able to deliver medicines quickly to remote locations and in their correct state for people to use.”

The package has been designed to house a smartbox powered by internet of things (IoT) technology. It’s geared to track the Skypod so data can be transmitted then viewed on a web and mobile app dashboard. This includes its location, near-real time external and internal box temperatures, as well as light exposure data that signals any tampering during daylight. The dashboard app will flash different alerts to prompt appropriate action.

This brainchild is a nod to the future. The combination of new materials and IoT can help form a new frontier for packaging manufacturers. In fact, Statista expects the IoT market, in healthcare and life sciences, to increase from $520 billion in 2014 to $1.335 trillion by 2020.

But it’s not just the drones that are taking off; innovation is flying, right across the board. The patient has been the trigger, digitisation the enabler. It is us who will be sitting at the centre of proceedings rather than the pharmacy or hospital, receiving diagnoses and treatments at home. Smart technologies and linked healthcare systems are paving the way for this interaction.

New levels of connectivity, however, need to be accompanied by new levels of security. Serialisation – the practice of assigning unique, traceable numbers to individual units – is already leading the charge against counterfeit and falsified drugs, as well as diversion and theft. Advances in cryptography, where combinations of private and public keys protect data, are also building a robust security layer; similarly, with the rise of blockchain technology, where the entire decentralised user network forms a shield against amendment
or tampering.

Pioneering cold chain solution providers are prepped for this new, transparent, super-connected era. They have to be. With the stakes so high, safeguarding medication logistics has become as important as any part of the drug development process itself.

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