IoT Closes Gaps in Pharma Supply Chain

Tracking temperatures and locations with IoT-based thermo-monitoring solutions is keeping life-saving medicines viable and patients safe.

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Image credit: Modum

Pharmaceutical companies save lives. Looking only at vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths will be avoided thanks to vaccines given to children born between 1994 and 2013.

In 2020, medicines reach children and the overall market much differently than a decade ago. Europe’s supply chain, for example, is facing new standards and requirements that require more rigorous tracking. IoT technology provides the necessary monitoring, and companies are already moving prototypes into real-world scenarios. The US is following closely in Europe’s wake, looking at IoT technology to transform how drugs are manufactured and delivered. In every scenario, IoT is helping to improve efficiency and prevent costly mistakes.  

Signed, Sealed, Delivered and Measured

Swiss Post, the postal service for Switzerland and the country’s second largest employer, is turning to IoT technology to safeguard pharmaceutical deliveries. Insulin, vaccines, and other medications are heat sensitive. If the medicine’s temperature goes outside a certain range during transport, it may no longer be effective. A few years ago, for example, Kaiser Permanente recalled 35,000 doses of Fluvirin flu shot after it was believed the batch got too cold during shipment. Patients who received vaccinations were advised to be revaccinated. 

To improve pharmaceutical transportation and provide an option other than more expensive specialty deliverers, Swiss Post teamed up with startup Modum to create ThermoCare, a solution that monitors the temperature of packages over their entire travel routes. Medicines are packaged in a custom-built ThermoCare box.  The nifty solution combines IoT, blockchain, QR codes, and information-packed dashboards to track, monitor, and analyze pharmaceutical shipments.

When a shipment arrives at any point on its journey, the recipient can review the temperature data using the QR code. If temperatures move out of the safe range, the stored data can help determine which location or organization is responsible.

ThermoCare is built on Modum’s MODsense, which can integrate into ERP, warehouse, and track-and-trace solutions to automate the validation of quality requirements. A full overview is available here.

IoT Protects $1.5M Package

Another IoT solution from Tive offers similar supply chain benefits. Tive provides real-time temperature alerts by placing sensors in the packaging.  The sensors also monitor location and other in-transit conditions. (Read about the full solution here.)

One pharma manufacturing customer ships medicine packages via ocean freight from production sites in Europe to distribution centers in North America. To prevent damage, the shipments require a temperature-controlled environment between 15°C and 25 °C. In an early use case, the manufacturer was shipping 17 different products with a total value of $1.5 million from Belgium to North America on a container ship launched from the Port of Antwerp. Two of the products were new to market and had a lot riding on a successful launch.

The supply chain manager checked the status of the shipment on Tive and saw that the ship was unexpectedly in Port of Hamburg, Germany, and that the temperature was set to 6°C. After a quick call to the shipping company, they realized the error and raised the temperature to the proper setting. Having the real-time tracking system saved the shipment from losing its value, and the pharmaceutical company was able to meet its timeline for introducing the new drug to market.

Future-forward Supply Chains

Thermo-monitored solutions are finding a home in pharma supply chains and in food delivery supply chains. Increasingly, IoT solutions are proving their value and helping pharma companies revisit—and increase—their shrinking margins.

Intel has multiple options to help integrators build an IoT supply chain platform or find partners.

Learn more about Modum and Tive.