Two current major areas of focus for a logistics industry constantly under pressure to meet the ever more demanding challenges associated with Asian and worldwide pharmaceutical industry cold supply chain operations are improved data collection and greater cross-party collaboration.

The data issue, for example, featured prominently at an international conference on pharma/healthcare supply chain GDP (good distribution practise) in the aviation industry held at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in the Netherlands late last year.

Specifically, reported conference host Schiphol Cargo, speakers had emphasized the importance of data integrity for quality managers. In that context, it continued, the Dutch Association of Research Quality Assurance Professionals had stressed the strong need for validation of IT systems and recommended that “carriers should avoid airports which do not provide acceptable data quality”.

Speaking more recently to Asia Cargo News, Tony Wright, CEO of Exelsius, a UK-based provider of international consultancy and other services relating to GDP (Good Distribution Practice) in the life sciences sector, confirmed that data quality was “an issue which is probably occupying the minds of most pharma companies and most people involved in the supply chain process for that industry.”

“Having data visibility is key when it comes to knowing in advance what a particular shipment is going to encounter – for example, using data analysis to establish what the temperature will be in Singapore at 0600 hours or Dubai at 1500 hours when your shipment arrives,” he said.

“Then there is the issue of data quality relating to the product while it is in transit, knowing what has happened at every single stage and more importantly, whose hands it is in for each part of the supply chain process.”

Expanding on that last point, Alan Dorling, global head of pharmaceuticals and life sciences for airline group IAG Cargo, suggested the biggest technology shift in that respect involved the development of track and trace devices which continually monitored shipments in transit, rather than simply providing historical information.

“What the new technologies are doing now is providing both continuous tracking of where the product is and continuous recording of the temperature to enable proactive intervention while a shipment is in transit,” he said.

Sandro Knecht, executive vice president, global market sector consumer & retail and healthcare at CEVA Logistics, made a similar observation, commenting that technology which allowed service providers to instantly know if there was a temperature excursion while products were in transit was an “interesting” area of development.

That option was, in fact, already available, he continued. However, there were still improvements to be made in the kind of technology which could be used regularly in a cost-effective way. “Some of it is still quite pricey, and whilst the margin pressure in pharma and healthcare logistics is not as great as it is in some other market sectors, there will probably be quite some pressure on the costing of those devices.”

Christopher Dehio, head of products and solutions management, temperature sensitive logistics, Lufthansa Cargo, agreed that “today, real time data availability is no longer a technical challenge.” The real challenges in that context, he suggested, were much more on the administrative, legal and formal side.

“Administrative challenges, for example, appear when a multitude of different platforms are expected to be used by every carrier to monitor the status of devices planted on shipments by different shippers. Here a standard is required to define which messages are sent which enable carriers to adapt their own platform to the usage of real-time temperature monitoring and other sensors,” he stated.

“Legal issues also need to be examined closely. For example, who is the responsible owner of the data, when can it be shared, under what circumstances, and with which party; when and how can such data be used to press liability claims and to what extent; and what transportation laws take hold, when and with what liability caps, if any?”

Renate de Walle, pharma director for Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo, said another key issue to have emerged at the Schiphol conference when it came to cold chain logistics was the importance of improved cross-party cooperation.

“One of the key takeaways from that event was that to improve supply chain quality and thereby the product integrity of the pharmaceutical goods, we need to enhance partnership communication between shippers, forwards and the airlines. Transparency and collaboration is key to further improving supply chain quality,” she said.

Lufthansa Cargo’s Dehio focused on the significance of collaboration in relation to the fact that air transport processes were often unfamiliar to those not immediately employed in that area, resulting in many expectations and assumptions about those processes not being clearly addressed.

“That then leads to miscommunications, temperature excursions and, finally, damage to the product. In a nut shell, it is important to know what the customer does and does not know and that can only be achieved through communication and co-operation,” he said.

Tom Grubb, manager, cold chain strategy, for American Airlines Cargo, highlighted the need for greater cross-party collaboration to meet the varying regulatory requirements of different pharma industry regulatory bodies around the world.

“Each of those regulatory bodies can have differing perspectives and the same applies to individual countries’ customs authorities. These complexities are driving both rapid change in the temperature-controlled supply chain and a need for enhanced collaboration between all participants,” he said.

Overall, suggested IAG Cargo’s Dorling, cross-party collaboration in pharma cold chain logistics operations was improving. “More and more now we are seeing deeper collaboration between the shippers (pharma manufacturers), the freight forwarders managing the supply chain process, the truckers and the air carriers,” he said.

Exelsius’s Wright agreed but warned the global picture was still patchy. “There has been significant improvement over the last two or three years but, unfortunately, there still examples of where that still has some way to go. For example, I was in the US recently and the aspect of quality agreements between supply chain partners and the collaboration that brings still concerns me. It is not developing as quickly there as in other parts of the world such as Europe.”


By Phil Hastings

Europe Correspondent | London