Guest Column | May 10, 2024

Trends To Track: Outbound, Inbound Biopharma Supply Chain Advances

By Pankaj Singh, Global Market Insights

Logistics transporation-GettyImages-1142959967

In the biopharmaceutical market, logistics refers to the storage, transportation, and distribution of biopharmaceutical products like vaccines, blood products, tissues, and gene therapies. Biopharma products often require precise temperature control and careful handling to maintain their safety and efficacy throughout the supply chain. Even minor variations in temperature or mishandling can render these sensitive products ineffective or dangerous.

Biopharmaceutical products such as gene therapies, vaccines, insulin, and antibodies are important to tackle diseases like cancer, diabetes, hemophilia, and neurological disorders. According to Global Market Insights Inc., the gene therapy industry value will surpass $44 billion by 2032, indicating the tremendous requirement for suitable logistics and value-added services over the coming decade.

Moreover, the complexity of biopharmaceutical logistics continues to grow, which requires sophisticated mechanisms to ensure that healthcare systems can maintain a steady and consistent delivery of medical supplies to those in need. This includes managing the transport of temperature-sensitive products, also known as cold chain logistics, to prevent spoilage and ensure the efficacy of medications upon delivery.

The biopharma supply chain relies heavily on transportation to move products efficiently and safely from manufacturing sites to distribution centers, warehouses, and end users. Temperature control and real-time monitoring are critical during transport to maintain product quality.

Key modes of transportation in biopharmaceutical logistics include:

  • Air transportation — Air freight provides the fastest transport globally and is essential for high-value biologics and time/temperature-sensitive products like vaccines. Temperature-controlled containers and data loggers are used to maintain and monitor conditions during air transport.
  • Road transportation — Trucks offer greater flexibility for short hauls and last-mile delivery. Refrigerated trucks and temperature-controlled containers help protect biopharma products while GPS tracking provides real-time visibility.
  • Rail transportation — Rail moves large volumes efficiently over long distances. Refrigerated rail cars and monitoring systems help transport temperature-sensitive biologics.
  • Ocean transportation Ocean vessels are ideal for moving raw materials and high-volume, low-cost products between continents. Reefer containers allow temperature control and safe transport of biologics.

Careful route planning, redundancy, and contingency measures like refrigerated storage depots help mitigate potential shipment delays and extreme weather risks.

Continued technology advances like IoT, blockchain, AI, and control towers are improving end-to-end visibility, automation, and resilience across biopharma transportation globally. For instance, in late 2022 Mitsubishi Logistics announced ML Chain, where the company has utilized the abilities of blockchain technology to help clients track the shipments they have outsourced. The technology can assure clients that their products are managed under proper conditions at every step along the supply chain.

Value-Added Services Augment Biopharmaceutical Logistics’ Impact

Value-added services are a key component of biopharmaceutical logistics due to the need for specialized handling of biologics. Some of the prominent value-added services in this market include packaging and labeling, inventory and recall management, and temperature monitoring.

Let us understand how these services are positively impacting the operations and growth of biopharmaceutical manufacturers and suppliers.

Packaging and labeling

Proper packaging and labeling are critical for biologics to maintain stability and efficacy. Service providers offer services such as primary and secondary packaging, serialization, and aggregation to meet regulatory requirements. Temperature-controlled packaging and thermal blankets are used to control temperatures during transport.

Today, packaging and labeling solutions need to provide cost benefits as well as enhance the company’s image for better social acceptance. For example, in manufacturing and logistics, smart labeling products integrated with digital technologies can offer a comprehensive view of operations across the value chain, which can enhance decision-making processes.

Citing one instance, in 2023, IQVIA unveiled its RIM Smart Labeling solution targeting the life sciences market, to deliver an intelligence-driven label management system. It enabled real-time workflow monitoring of global label changes, assisting in regulatory compliance and streamlining notifications, alerts, and tasks through centralization. For a biopharmaceutical firm, adopting such solutions can lead to certain economic as well as social benefits, such as:

  • By reducing manual checking and data entry, smart labels can lead to significant time and cost savings.
  • Smart labeling could ensure that biopharmaceutical companies comply with stringent regulatory standards.
  • They can help minimize financial losses associated with product recalls or counterfeiting since products are easier to track and authenticate.
  • Smart labels can help improve patient safety by ensuring that medications are authentic, properly stored, and not expired.
  • They can reduce waste by improving inventory management and reducing the number of expired or unusable products.

Temperature monitoring

Biopharma companies are losing around $35 billion each year owing to failed temperature monitoring and control during logistics. These firms can save money using value-added services to reduce product loss, improve regulatory compliance, and increase logistical efficiencies.

Logistics solutions provider Sensitech recently launched TempTale GEO X, an Internet of Things (IoT)-powered temperature monitoring solution. It can assist companies in monitoring vaccines and other biologics, which are temperature-sensitive, while in transit across the globe. The development represents a need for cutting-edge tools for the biopharmaceutical logistics industry to strengthen efficiency, compliance, and reliability while guaranteeing connected, automated, and sustainable pharma supply chains.

One aspect of temperature monitoring services that can lead to cost savings is thermal mapping, which determines the most suitable locations for monitoring sensors and ensures that all areas are within the required temperature range. By implementing these strategically placed sensors, companies can ensure that the full range of environmental conditions within storage areas is captured, allowing for better control and potentially less product waste due to environmental inconsistencies.

Returns and recalls

The ability to efficiently handle returns and recalls is important in the biopharmaceutical industry. Logistics providers can quickly locate products in the supply chain and have robust reverse logistics capabilities to handle recalls and returns with minimal disruption.

According to the U.S. FDA’s database, the pharmaceutical industry experienced an average of 831 recalls per year from 2012 to 2021. Within these numbers, biopharmaceutical-related recalls account for a significant portion, emphasizing the critical need for stringent quality control and logistics management. Moreover, of the 912 drug recalls during FY2022, the FDA stated that 130 recalls were due to temperature abuse and nearly 100 recall cases were a result of the products not being stored under appropriate temperature conditions.

Given the high stakes, it's crucial for biopharmaceutical companies to:

  • establish comprehensive quality control and risk management systems,
  • implement proactive logistics and supply chain strategies to mitigate returns, and
  • develop efficient, regulatory-compliant recall procedures that can be activated promptly to minimize both financial impact and harm to patients.

Trends To Watch Out For In Biopharma Cold Chain Logistics

As the global demand for biologics continues to surge, the importance of bringing innovations into supply chain strategies cannot be overstated. Not only do they represent a commitment to product quality and patient safety, but they also align with broader industry trends toward sustainability and efficiency.

  • Reusable pallet shippers — can reduce waste and environmental impact while offering cost-effectiveness over multiple logistics cycles. These products are often made using advanced insulation and phase change materials, representing the union of sustainability and efficiency. They are designed to maintain specified temperature ranges for extended periods, far surpassing the capabilities of traditional single-use shippers. Recently, CSafe introduced the Silverpod MAX RE, a durable and reusable pallet shipper that uses recyclable PCM coolants for safer storage and has real-time tracking.
  • Thermal blankets — serve as an additional layer of protection for biologics during transport. Using these products with other cold chain technologies can safeguard against transient temperature spikes and drops. Their ease of application and cost efficiency underscores the utility in enhancing the thermal stability of shipments.
  • Passive packaging solutions — have evolved to offer remarkably stable thermal protection for biologics. Unlike their active counterparts, these systems do not require external energy sources, making them ideal for scenarios where power availability is a concern. The sophistication of passive packaging technology today allows for customization according to the thermal sensitivity of the biopharma product, ensuring protection against temperature excursions during transit.
  • Big Data analytics — can enhance decision-making processes along the value chain for biopharma companies dealing with complex distribution requirements. For instance, predictive analytics, a component of Big Data, can be exceptionally useful in managing the supply chain. In April 2024, SmartCAE and ELPRO announced a partnership to offer a novel predictive analytics service to enhance temperature control in cold chain shipments.

With personalized medicines on the rise, service providers need agile, flexible networks capable of precision handling and transportation. This shift from mass market to tailored supply chains brings new opportunities for innovation, and biopharma logistics has become a crucial service sector in this landscape. Proper biopharmaceutical logistics ensure innovative therapies reach patients and healthcare providers safely and with their intended potency. By partnering with logistics experts who understand the complexity of biopharma products, manufacturers can scale up production and expand access to important medicines.

Embedding technology in tracking and distribution processes - such as blockchain and IoT solutions - can significantly improve traceability and the speed of recall processes, highlighting the strong potential across the biopharmaceutical logistics market to adopt emerging tech solutions. Advances in logistics not only improve customer satisfaction but also enhance the reliability and efficiency of the supply chain for pharmaceutical products.

About The Author:

Pankaj Singh is a writer at Global Market Insights who writes about business, technology, trade, and finance.