Three Trends Driving Digital Innovation in Cold Chain
Without a fortified cold chain, pharmaceutical breakthroughs such as immunotherapies, mRNA vaccines, and personalized medicine would have no pathway to the patient. As clinical research has evolved to commercialize sophisticated discoveries, digital technology has also advanced. The COVID pandemic likely helped accelerate the deployment and adoption of patient-centric digital enablement for greater connectivity to the medical ecosystem.
In terms of the larger supply chain picture, digital innovation has emerged capable of monitoring, logging, and signaling status and condition of cold chain therapies during distribution. Lightweight, integrated IoT devices essentially act as another line of defense against a damaging temperature excursion during transit. By investing in smart packaging, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors have 100% confidence that prescription medicine is safe to take. At any sign of an excursion, the package can communicate that status change to stakeholders so corrective action can be taken.
Beyond the COVID pandemic and better, faster, smaller IoT enabled devices, what are other factors leading to this innovation along the cold chain?
- New distribution models. As COVID ushered in long overdue adoption of telehealth with aligned payment models, new opportunities to engage directly with patients have formed. As such, traditional hub-and-spoke models have been disrupted. With cold chain therapies in particular, delivering direct to patient eliminates additional stops and handoffs, removing more points of potential failure. Digitally enabled packaging tells the patient in certain terms if the medication’s temperature was preserved, and the contents are safe whether it was in transit for 24 or 72 hours.
- Consumer expectations. These go hand in hand with new distribution models. Following two years of on-again/off-again social distancing requirements, consumers, aka patients, have acclimated to arms-length transactions. With greater online activity, consumers have become accustomed to detailed insights and alerts around the status of their goods. More, a recent study (LINK) found that 40% of patients relying on prescription therapies worry about illness and death from ineffective, contaminated, counterfeit, expired, or improperly labeled or stored products. When it comes to a medicine that can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, not to mention the potential to vastly improve a person’s quality of life, there is an implicit expectation that the package is handled with appropriate safeguards.
- Climate change concerns. Believe it or not, there is a correlation between investing in IoT tracking and tracing technology and measurably reducing environmental impact. When deployed in real-time, digital enablers help confirm product condition which leads to patient or caregiver confidence. Applying this data to ESG programs can also give a baseline for future carbon reduction efforts. For example, if signals collected from overnight shipments indicate that the thermal packaging routinely has 24 hours of passive thermal performance left, this is an opportunity to extend duration to lessen both cost and carbon emissions.
As for how the retrieval of physical devices is managed to extend the usable lifespan of devices, this is where reusable packaging with mature reverse logistics is ideally positioned. This approach also allows distributing entities to amortize the cost of integrated technology over many patient journeys.