- Global spending on pharmaceutical cold chain is expected to grow nearly 24% between 2020 and 2024 to reach $21.3 billion, according to an annual forecast in the Biopharma Cold Chain Sourcebook published this year.
- About $5 billion of the $17.5 billion spent on pharmaceutical cold chain in 2020 will go toward packaging costs, and there's a growing trend of tracking shipments with temperature sensors, according to a summary of the report.
- The report's data collection took place prior to the pandemic, but it notes that the vaccine rollout will mean "the cold chain logistics market will be positively impacted." The last few months have seen this play out, as logistics companies invest in cold storage and large freezer farms to help transport and store vaccines.
The cold chain is at the forefront of vaccine logistics. The coronavirus vaccines have strict temperature requirements that must be maintained throughout the supply chain. An important part of adhering to the requirements is monitoring, ensuring the temperature doesn't get too high or too low. This is where sensors and temperature monitoring technology are vital.
The technology required for monitoring the pharmaceutical cold chain has improved in recent years to include highly automated networks of sensors and servers that send out alerts when temperature diversions occur, according to Paul Daniel, a senior regulatory expert at Vaisala, which creates sensors for monitoring the weather and environment. (Vaisala's sensors have even landed on Mars as part of the Curiosity Rover.)
"We're now collecting data all the time," Daniel said of the modern cold chain.
The latest on-premise, cold-chain-monitoring structures have evolved to a point where there is a good amount of standardization in the industry, he said.
The applications run on one or multiple servers that communicate with sensors in the locations that need to be monitored.
A location will probably have "multiple [sensors] throughout your warehouse, probably one in each incubator, refrigerator or freezer," Daniel said. "And that data gets aggregated into a database, so that you can report on it."
Daniel noted that Vaisala uses data loggers to collect temperature information at the point of measurements. This ensures data isn't lost if there are network connectivity issues, allowing data to be sent later if failures occur.
The monitoring system that Vaisala provides has dashboards to allow users to track raw data over time and see key metrics, but Daniel said users shouldn't have to look at these if the system is functioning well.
"If it's doing its job, you don't need to interact with it," he said. "Because you've set it up to be automated. ... It sends you an alarm notification through SMS or by email."
But data on temperature usually isn't available through the entire logistics journey of a pharmaceutical product. A warehouse might not share data with a logistics company, and packaging might have simple temperature tracking that changes color when diversions occur rather than tracking temperature over the entire trip. But this has changed with Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine.
Pfizer is shipping its vaccine straight from its manufacturing facility to the point of innoculation, and multiple sensors track its temperature along the way. This tracking led to multiple shipments being turned around after becoming too cold earlier this month.
"And because their packaged product always stays in the same thermal shipper from start to end, they have the unique ability to track the temperatures with a GPS-enabled device that sends the temperature data wirelessly," Daniel wrote in an email to Supply Chain Dive. "So for this product alone, there is a chance you might see that holy grail of unbroken temperature data over the life of a shipment, but you likely won’t find it anywhere else in the pharmaceutical cold-chain."
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