Transport of pharmaceuticals: blockchain allows much better control of temperature fluctuations
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Blockchain technology – a chain of blocks – is used to store and transmit information about transactions on the Internet, which are arranged in the form of successive blocks of data. Real-time event monitoring allows for intervention immediately when deviations in the supply chain occur.
Practice shows that almost one in ten sensitive pharmaceutical shipments experiences temperature variations. In countries with exceptionally hot climates, this figure is even twice as high. For this reason, many valuable biopharmaceutical products do not meet quality standards on arrival. This means, in fact, destroying the goods and also wasted money on transport.
Worldwide spending on research in medicine and the pharmaceutical sector amounts to roughly $900 billion annually. The export of pharmaceuticals is huge, medicines and health care products massively ‘travel’ from country to country and between continents. New solutions are being developed to improve the supply chain, storage and transport of such goods. They are getting more and more complex, because the requirements of suppliers and customers for raw materials or finished products are also increasing. This applies, for example, to biopharmaceuticals.
Many of the most valuable currently produced drugs are biopharmaceuticals, which are particularly sensitive to temperature.
Biotech and conventional, chemical medicines differ in their structure and mode of action. The former are obtained in biotechnological processes with the use of living organisms (bacteria, fungi) and the latter is created in chemical processes. Biopreparations have a polypeptide-protein structure, and despite many advantages, they also have a lot of disadvantages.
Biopharmaceuticals are extremely sensitive to changes in pH, temperature and environmental pollution. Even small fluctuations can change the composition of the protein, making it worthless and sometimes even… harmful. Because the costs of manufacturing, biopharmaceuticals are higher than those of traditional medicines, losses in the supply chain are more costly and companies try to minimize them.
A refrigerated supply chain often referred to as a cold chain, is an absolute necessity in the distribution of this type of medicine. Until now, such a chain did not always function properly, e.g. foamed polystyrene packaging often failed.
Specialists calculated that 40% of the $13 billion spent on the transportation of temperature-sensitive biopharmaceuticals (2017 data) was wasted. The problem concerned mainly vaccines. More than 60% of temperature deviations affecting the quality of biopharmaceutical shipments occurred at airports during transhipment. Destroyed were mainly drugs were destroyed, which were transported between countries with very large temperature differences (often the differences exceeded 40 degrees Celsius). The airport logistics staff also contributed to this. They often plan ahead and ‘park’ the pallets next to the aircraft long before departure, which makes it difficult to maintain optimal transport conditions.
It was decided to change this with the help of blockchain. Swiss technology company SkyCell has created blockchain-enabled refrigerated containers that allow for real-time monitoring of temperature deviations, even in the smallest range, from anywhere in the world.
All SkyCell containers are equipped with IoT sensors that connect to the data cloud.
The service allows for remote monitoring of each container and intervention to ensure the same strict quality standards wherever containers are located. SkyCell containers can be tracked in any country, on any continent, and the software allows not only to monitor the temperature but also to indicate that the container is in proper condition.
The collection of data resulting from container monitoring also allows for analysis and simulation of container transport routes, eliminating those places where the risk of disruption to the supply chain is greatest.
Blockchain technology has become the standard for security and data verification in this case. This does not mean that the consignments were previously completely without any control. “Previously, we also tracked our shipments, now we are moving our system to a decentralized platform to exploit the full potential of this technology,” explained Thomas Taroni, Head of IT at SkyCell.
The containers received a special insulation layer (patented), and the sensors, apart from geolocation and temperature measurement, can also measure humidity. SkyCell cloud platform records documentation such as bills of lading and customs forms for each container in a book similar to chain blocks. This creates a clear and reliable (data cannot be deleted) image of the status of a given container and the goods transported in it.
In an increasing number of countries, the rules governing the transport of medicines are very strict. “It happens that if it is to be constantly between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, and the recorder indicated 8.1 degrees Celsius, the container is sent back,” explained Richard Ettl, co-founder and CEO of SkyCell, in an interview with FreightWaves.
It is possible that similar blockchain-enabled solutions will soon be used to transport other types of goods, such as salmon.