Pharmaceutical cold chain technologies have progressed significantly in the last few years providing new options and better processes to ship and store pharmaceuticals and biologics. The market for cold chain drugs is expected to rise 59% from 2017 to 2023 creating strong demand for technologies that meet industry regulations and ensure safe delivery. It is estimated that 20% of pharmaceutical products are damaged during transport due to temperature fluctuations. That is an estimated loss of $35 billion per year. This is an obvious indication that there are serious logistics challenges in the pharmaceutical industry that require improvements that will lead to massive savings. Pharmaceutical companies report that 50 percent of their products require temperature control. As the production of vaccines and biologics increases, the need for refrigerated shipping solutions grows in demand. Here are 5 innovations in the pharmaceutical cold chain that reduce supply chain costs.



  1. Refrigerated Containers – New developments in refrigerated shipping containers, also called reefers, are allowing for better temperature controlled environments over a longer period of time. New temperature controlled shipping containers are equipped with enhanced insulation and redundant systems. These back-up systems ensure the temperature is maintained if the first system fails. Sophisticated temperature monitoring technology and alarms signal if the temperature fluctuates outside of its settings. This allows staff to be notified and take action to preserve the temperature sensitive cargo. With the new, more dependable refrigerated shipping containers available today, long-haul transport of pharmaceuticals using these shipping containers are becoming more reliable and economical.
  2. Ocean Freight Shipping – Transporting pharmaceuticals is most often done via air freight with the belief that speed and control of air shipments is the best choice when transporting temperature sensitive goods. Yet, this method comes with a high cost and the risk of unexpected delays. If the shipment runs into delays, such as being trapped waiting on the tarmac for several hours, temperature sensitive medications and biologics could be damaged. Often, air freight shipments are not packaged in temperature controlled cargo containers leading to a substantial risk if the shipment runs into any unanticipated delays. For instance, in 2017, Baxter International recalled a shipment of Intralipid 20% IV fat emulsion due to exposure to subfreezing temperatures that affect how the product performed. This was a substantial loss for Baxter that could have been prevented with proper temperature controlled storage containers. The improvements to cold chain equipment and much lower cost of shipping has led some pharmaceutical companies to switch to using ocean freight shipping for the majority of their products. For instance, drug makers such as AstraZeneca, Baxter, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have switched to shipping the majority of their products using temperature controlled ocean freight. The benefit of substantial cost savings, reduced carbon footprint and reduced staffing, packing and storage needs makes this a very attractive logistics choice for pharma companies.
  3. Better Temperature Monitoring Technology – Through advancements in technology, it is possible to monitor the temperature and conditions of pharmaceutical shipments through the entire cold chain process. One method of monitoring temperature conditions is to include a small device called a temperature data logger along with the shipment. These devices can measure temperature, shock, humidity, and vibration. Once the shipment is delivered the data can be manually uploaded into a system. More advanced reefers are equipped with monitoring equipment that allows for satellite recording of temperatures through the entire shipment. If the temperature deviates, alarms will signal the fluctuation allowing for backup mechanisms to prevent spoilage of cargo. This continuous monitoring throughout transport reassures that temperature sensitive cargo has reached its destination in perfect condition.
  4. Advancements in GPS Tracking – End-to-end tracking of temperature sensitive vaccines, biologics and medications helps ensure the shipment reaches its destination quickly and without delay. When shipping via air freight, shipments are smaller but may require more stops or transfers to reach their destination. This increases the risk of delay or lost shipment. When transporting pharmaceuticals by ocean freight, refeer containers can hold much more material, which adds to efficiency but means any product loss would be greater. GPS tracking devices can be included in the shipment or as a part of the container itself. Satellite GPS tracking allows companies to follow the movement of their shipment in real-time throughout the entire process. This not only creates a sense of peace knowing where the shipment is at all times, but also allows companies to monitor the shipment’s movement and report any changes in delivery schedule. In case of an unexpected delay, companies can relay information about any changes in schedule helping to efficiently coordinate the cold supply chain.
  5. Warehousing Techniques for Pharmaceutical – Maintaining appropriate storage conditions for pharmaceuticals is a major challenge in the cold chain. Different drugs require specific temperature, humidity and lighting conditions. The warehouse provider must ensure these conditions to meet the requirements defined by the manufacturer and meet the regulatory standards outlined by the FDA. Improving warehouse management systems (WMS) is one way companies are increasing visibility to ensure accurate inventory, timely deliveries and product safety. Sophisticated machinery and monitors are used to maintain these storage spaces and relay important information to the WMS. Automation of labor is used to increase storage capacity, fill labor needs that would otherwise be difficult to meet due to the working conditions and reduce costs.



Mach 1 Global Services provides cold chain logistics and warehousing solutions to the pharmaceutical and medical industry. With over 30 years of experience, Mach 1 Global is a freight forwarder that is knowledgeable and experienced with the unique needs of pharmaceutical companies. To discuss how Mach 1 Global can assist you with your next temperature sensitive shipment call (800) 553-7774 or get a quote by clicking HERE.



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