Pharma logistics is a good business to be in. With growing middle class populations able to afford better healthcare and pharmaceutical companies constantly developing new products, the market inevitably keeps growing. But it is not just the growing volume of pharma and life science products that makes them an attractive market for those offering airfreight services, it is the changing nature of the products themselves.
“Some 40 or 50 years ago it was very different. It was much more about pills – which are very stable,” explained Julian Sutch, Emirates Manager Cargo Global Accounts – Pharma. “Now a lot of the new drugs are living organisms and many more are in liquid form, so they are highly sensitive to temperature differences. We also get drugs that are designed for individual people, so the cost is very high.”
All this leads to the demand for highly specialist logistics services – and the inevitable growth in rules and regulations covering those services. “There are more and more regulations – for all the right reasons,” said Leandro Moreira, Director of Life Science, Brinks, and Chair of the Health Technologies Distribution Alliance (HDTA). “It is all about the patient. The reason for so many standards is to protect the integrity of product, so that by the time it reaches the patient it is still intact and effective.”
He said that full supply chain transparency is vital. “Products are developed and manufactured in labs and clean rooms at ideal temperatures. The main challenge is when they depart the manufacturing facility. How do you minimize any kind of exposure that might cause spoilage?”
Moreira said that Brinks, a company usually associated with the movement of currency and precious metals, has identified the life science market as a natural fit. “We are used to working with valuable products in highly regulated environments. We have the DNA of compliance, urgency, and a unique approach to the chain of custody control. These transfer really well into the life science industry.”
He explained that HTDA has been established as a platform to foster collaboration between all those involved in activities ranging from clinical trials, manufacturing to final distribution, and everything that happens in between (regulatory, compliance, quality, etc).
The more opportunities there are to put stakeholders together, the more it helps to create an overall awareness of the entire process, and what the challenges are to protecting product integrity and efficacy until it gets to the patient.
The growing healthcare industry in the UAE has encouraged Emirates to develop its pharma products and facilities.
Stephen Maietta, Head of Market Development at Envirotainer, said investment needs to be in processes as much as in technology and facilities. “People have totally bought into training and education because the complexity and the overall risk profile varies so much for different products.
“Technology itself is not enough. You need to manage the touch points so that whatever packaging you use is effective. And it is also important to look at the sustainability factor so that manufacturers meet their own targets on reusing and recycling when choosing packaging and mode of transport.”
Moreira believes that the Internet of Things (IoT) can have a huge impact on whole pharma supply chain. “On the manufacturing side, all products will be required to have a serial number at unit level. We will have RFID, scanning devices communicating, inventory control, and time stamps at each stage.”
The ability to have devices communicate and connect to single platforms create formidable dynamic supply chain ecosystems. The Internet of Things allows for faster and more accurate decisions to be made, while facilitating great improvements in the areas of forecasting, compliance, security, continuous improvement, and operational performance, to name a few.
By integrating people, processes, data, and things, accountability and transparency can be raised to levels expected by regulators, shippers, and service providers. In the case of pharmaceutical supply chain, all these factors combined help protect product integrity, ultimately benefiting patients.
“We need to know everything that has happened to each unit with all the information controlled in a single platform. We need to have milestones captured in a certain way. Then we can use all that information for analysis and continuous improvement. It will allow stakeholders to look ahead and it makes the supply chain more efficient and more robust.”
In the past, much of the pharma volume has flown as general cargo. But as demand soars and the products evolve and regulations tighten, the need for specialized temperature-controlled pharma logistics with a totally transparent supply chain will undoubtedly continue to grow.