Life-saving pharmaceutical medications and treatments are often so sensitive that high temperatures are enough to render them useless. Therefore, much time, effort, and money go into maintaining cold temperatures in a cold pharmaceutical chain. Similar to methods used to keep produce and frozen foods from going bad, these pharmaceutical cold chains keep sensitive medical products stable.
Why Some Pharmaceuticals are Sensitive to Temperature
Modern-day pharmaceuticals comprise several sensitive molecules and easily disturbed chemical constituents. As a result, non-optimal temperatures can impact the efficacy of pharmaceutical products.
Not every medical product will react in the same way to changes in temperature, and some will continue to be effective despite temperature storage changes. However, with many medicines, even the slightest change can render the product useless or dangerous to patients’ health.
Pharmaceutical compounds made of molecules stable at room temperature can become unusable if not kept sufficiently cool when mixed. The chemical composition of a pharmaceutical product can be critical in determining its efficacy in patients. Any medicinal use will become lost if the product reaches a temperature where its components separate.
How Pharmaceutical Cold Chains are Established and Maintained
A pharmaceutical cold chain requires machinery and specialized tools that create and maintain optimal low temperatures. As a result, sustain the pharmaceutical products in the cold chain in an uninterrupted cold from the point of production to when it reaches the patient. In addition, maintain temperatures under close observation to avoid breaking the cold chain.
The cargo holds of refrigerated transport vehicles are enough to transport pharmaceuticals that require freezing or near-freezing storage temperatures. Along with this essential insulation, use dry ice to maintain low temperatures between control points.
The most extreme temperatures that reach negative 150 degrees Celsius are cryogenic. Therefore, products of the global medical supply chain that require these temperatures are susceptible and require liquid nitrogen or other frozen gases to be kept stable.
Difficulties of the Pharmaceutical Cold Chain
The most important part of the pharmaceutical cold chain is near total supply chain visibility during all transport points. Human error is kept to a minimum when possible with specialized tools and automated notification systems used to get information that is both reliable and timely.
In addition, specialized logistic software processes and manages storage temperature data closely. Pharmaceutical supply chain management uses this information to decide if any products will be ineffective upon arrival swiftly. While all this is happening, it is crucial to maintain continuous communication between supply chain managers and medical practitioners, avoiding missed treatment timings.
Different compounds separate at different speeds, but in transit, hours go by without noticing a cold chain error. As a result, it can cause medical treatments to be unavailable and cost companies thousands. A single lousy shipment can be especially harmful when sent to more rural areas that don’t receive many supplies of a particular medical product.
What Passes through the Pharmaceutical Cold Chain?
Countless medications and treatments are sent through the pharmaceutical cold chain daily. As a result, these range from common treatments that need low shipment temperatures to susceptible medicines that can’t exist in stable temperatures for long.
Vaccines are one of the most well-known modern pharmaceutical products that must be kept in cold chain storage. According to Dickson Data, store vaccines between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius or between -15 and -50 °C to maintain efficacy. These various temperatures are required to keep the vaccines effective and capable of providing medical benefits.
The number of medicines and products that require a pharmaceutical cold chain is increasing. The cold chain ensures that even the most rural locations can access essential medications. For example, according to this article from Business Insider, for several vaccines to reach a rural area, they had to maintain a cold chain by keeping shipping containers and the vaccine within a strict range of 2-8 degrees Celsius.
Why does a Cold Chain Require Tight Supplier Collaboration?
All cold chains require specialized treatment that other supply chains don’t need. With other supply chains, there is flexibility in transporting products, but this doesn’t apply to cold chains. Even for less life-saving products like produce, there are strict guidelines that all suppliers must follow.
These strict rules are essential for the pharmaceutical cold chains where lifesaving products must be monitored and maintained constantly. In addition, the growing number of pharmaceutical treatments that require cold temperatures leads to constant innovation in cold chain storage.
Some of the biggest advancements in supplier collaborations are in automated systems that can better unify procedures between chains. One recent example from the WSJ was an Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) technology that attempts to monitor electrical systems rather than temperatures—as a result, allowing distributors to take action before vaccine spoilage.
Collaboration between cold chain suppliers and the technology that they use ensures that sensitive materials don’t expire. Therefore, this is especially important when many of these medications are expensive to make and can quickly expire when exposed to higher temperatures. In addition, the supply chain managers’ sensitive nature to empower and protect employees since a poorly trained workforce can cause significant supply chain failures.
Errors in Cold Chain Storage and How Companies Respond
The response to pharmaceutical cold chain errors depends on the severity of the error and the transported medication. In some cases, any exposure to non-optimal temperatures presents too great of a risk to medical products. However, not all drugs and treatments are this sensitive.
Suppose catching the cold chain storage error early enough and the temperature was only a bit above recommended levels. In that case, the shipment could still be salvageable depending on the involved medical products. All pharmaceutical products that require a cold chain shipment are rated for the length of time they can remain out of the chain before they lose their efficiency. In addition, some companies employ customized or out-of-the-box software solutions to detect cold chain failures quickly so that management can react immediately.
Administer most medications sent through cold chains at room temperature. There is a specific amount of time in which they will still be effective even at high temperatures. That’s why vaccines, a typical product transported through a pharmaceutical cold chain, don’t have to be administered at freezing temperatures.
In summary, many pharmaceutical products maintain a chemical structure that makes them vulnerable to degradation and expiration if exposed to improper temperatures. As a result, pharmaceutical companies must design cold chain systems that transport and store medical products in specific conditions. In addition, immediately address any lapses in supply chain procedures to protect products and patients’ well-being.