All over the world, drug companies are producing medicines and treatments that are saving lives but when the pharmaceuticals leave the manufacturing plant that is only half the story.
Crucial to the success of the drugs is their safe delivery to hospitals, clinics and pharmacies and many of the consignments have to be kept at strictly-observed temperatures as they embark on their long journeys.
To ease the worry, many businesses outsource the delivery of their products to specialists in what is known as Cold Chain Logistics.
The success of drug treatments is often down to the skills and specialist equipment used by these logistics firms in meeting what is acknowledged as one of the biggest challenge that pharmaceutical industries face. Getting their products delivered safely.
The result is that cold chain logistics companies are transporting, and storing, vast amounts of pharmaceutical products around the planet, ranging from blood plasma and tissues to drugs and chemicals, clinical trial materials to gel packs.
It has become a huge industry; it is estimated that in the UK, for example, the temperature-controlled logistics market is worth an estimated 24% of the country’s total £96bn road transport market
The potential is there for further growth across the globe. According to the World Health Organisation, the global pharmaceutical market is valued at USD 300 billion and is expected to grow by USD 400 billion within three years.
India alone, a leading player in global healthcare industry, earns 60% of its pharmaceutical revenues through exports, a figure which grew by 19% between 2008 and 2012.
And it all needs distributing. Cold chain companies, which are common in the food and pharmaceutical industries as well as in some chemical shipments, have the task of maintaining specific temperatures which can be different for different products.
Keeping the temperatures constant is vital in the case of drugs to ensure that they retain their efficacy. Take vaccines as an example; they are very often bound for clinics in hot climates which are served by poorly developed transport networks.
The potential for delays at the ports and on the road in such countries is huge and it is vital that the temperature of the products are maintained however long the vehicles are held up.
That is why specialised logistics companies invest heavily in their vehicles and the on-board equipment required to keep the drugs at the right temperature.
They are also increasingly making use of specialised warehousing fitted with the latest in temperature and humidity controls so that the products can be stored safely either before starting their journey or en route.
That includes securing compounds and vehicles against criminals, which is a huge global business. In 2013, FreightWatch International, a global logistics security services company that aims to mitigate risks associated with cargo theft, revealed in its Global Cargo Theft Assessment that cargo theft rates in Europe increased 24% on average from 2011, and were on the rise in Asia as well.
Cargo theft rates in North, Central and South Americas remained consistent with prior years with the greatest risk of cargo theft existing in Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.
Over the previous decade, more than 10,000 cargo theft incidents were reported in Brazil. In 2012, nearly 6,800 incidents were reported in São Paulo alone. In Mexico, more than 6,000 cargo theft incidents were reported in 2012,the majority of them involving truck hijackings. In South Africa, more than 800 truck hijackings were reported.
Although these figures cover everything from food and drink products to high-value consumables, such as electronics, pharmaceutical drugs are a big market and logistics companies take the threat of theft seriously.
Packaging is also an essential element in the successful delivery of temperature controlled products. Selecting the correct packaging system requires an understanding of logistics, primarily the environment to which the shipment will be exposed during transit.
There is so much that can go wrong if the packaging is inadequate, including ; temperatures dropping too low and humidity having an adverse affect on the product.
All of these considerations make the cold chain business an expensive one, with all sorts of costs, obvious and hidden but the investment is necessary.
Failure to get distribution and storage right may have disastrous effects; a drug which is proved to work may actually fail if its transportation conditions were poor meaning that lives may be placed at risk. In the case of vaccines, there is the danger of an outbreak of a disease which would otherwise remain under control.
The need to safely and correctly transport such shipments is why the industry has so many regulations and why the cold chain distribution process is seen as an extension of the good manufacturing practices to which drug and biological product companies are required to adhere.
The regulations are enforced by the various health regulatory bodies around the world and, to ensure that they comply with the regulations, cold chains have sophisticated quality management systems, which are constantly analysed, measured, controlled, documented and validated to ensure that there is no negative impact to the quality of the drugs being transported.
A central part of the process is the logistics companies’ understanding of the different rules and regulations that exist in different countries, each one of which needs specialised navigation. The rules in Africa, for example, may be different than those in India.
Because freight is not an exact science, and because so many things can come into play once a load is on its way, a good logistics company will make sure that they not only understand the local differences but also keep the client informed of each load’s progress.
To that end, a good logistics company will make use of the best in new technology, including online tracking systems which allow them to know exactly where a shipment is at any given time.
It’s a lot of effort but worth it – the temperate-controlled logistics industry is, quite literally, a life-saver.