Safely delivering the goods: a successful supply chain

25 September 2018



It is often the final stage of a drug’s journey that can be the most hazardous. Ensuring the cold chain is not broken means understanding a number of variables. Erik Agterhuis, senior manager of logistics and EU supply chain at Kite Pharma, outlines the considerations one must make in order to ensure successful delivery.


A biological cold chain shipment is on its way from the manufacturing site in South America to Europe. The reefer arrives in a European port and is being forwarded by road to the local warehouse location in one of the European states. Although the previous journey is the longest link in the full supply chain, the last mile distribution is far from a piece of cake.

Vaccines and a lot of other pharmaceutical products need to be kept in temperature-controlled conditions – 2–8°C or 15–25°C – from the moment they leave the manufacturing site until they reach their final destination. The challenges faced in last mile distribution depend on different aspects.

Type of product and stability data

Understanding the shipment requirements and assessing the risk associated with the type of the shipped product is essential. Alignment with regulatory affairs and the quality assurance department are required to understand all details and follow-up actions, especially in the case of excursions or other deviations.

Stability data provides the characteristics of the product and indicates the time a product can be handled in a non-temperaturecontrolled environment. It is the label claim and the stability data that determine the structure of distribution.

Geographical location and logistic infrastructure

One of the challenges the industry partially faces becomes apparent once a product reaches its destination. Despite the product having arrived in perfect condition, when the products make their way through the supply chain, the cold chain can potentially deconstruct. This is due to the destination’s logistical infrastructure. In more rural areas, the energy can fail at a level where there is insufficient power, or if the pharmaceutical products travel long distances without adequate cold chain protection. Unfortunately, the logistical infrastructure in some countries is not as sophisticated as stipulated by World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, pharmaceutical regulations or local inspectorates. Therefore, the pharma industry should think beyond the port of destination and support those countries operationally, as well as financially. The industry has a responsibility to ensure the product reaches the final destination under the full and right conditions without impacting the efficacy of the product.

Characteristics of last mile distribution

Once a product has arrived in the port of destination, it needs to follow practical steps in the supply chain to maintain its integrity. Those steps will normally be a mixture of storage locations and transportation lanes. Even within a country, the transportation lanes can be a cross between different transport modes. In all of those steps, a basis of requirements has been determined.

In accordance with chapter nine of the GDP guidelines, it is the responsibility of the supplying partner to ensure that temperature conditions are maintained within acceptable limits during transport. Regardless of the mode of transport, it must be possible to demonstrate that the medicines have not been exposed to conditions that may compromise their quality and integrity. A risk-based approach should be utilised when planning transportation.

The pharma industry should employ mapping execution and lane validation studies based on a risk analysis. Depending on the risk and local infrastructure, a different distribution model can be chosen.

Keeping active

In this instance, products are transported in temperature-controlled systems, via the specific and agreed commercial country model. At the point of destination, the products will be offloaded and temperature graphs will be checked to demonstrate the products have complied with the temperature storage conditions. When approved, the customer QP will release the products for the market.

If temperature-controlled vehicles are used, the temperaturemonitoring equipment should be maintained and calibrated at regular intervals. Temperature mapping under representative conditions should be carried out and take into account seasonal variations. If requested, customers should be provided with information to demonstrate the products have complied with the temperature storage conditions.

Passive shippers

Products are transported using passive shippers or systems in accordance with the specific and agreed commercial country model. On the market, there are different types of boxes available, and depending on the size of the shipment or duration of transporting the products, should be kept within its limits.

If cool-packs are used in insulated boxes, they need to be placed so that the product does not come in direct contact with them. Staff must be trained on all the necessary procedures for assembly of the insulated boxes and reuse of cool-packs.

Additional devices

Active and passive last mile distribution can be combined with additional devices that are added to the shipment based on the validation, mapping of the systems and the vehicles being used. On the market, there are different types of devices available, they can be USB-enabled and some are reusable, whereas others can only be used one way. Additional factors that are important to consider are the number of measurements per time interval and the calibration method used. Last mile distribution, as aforementioned, is the most complex part of the supply chain.


Andrea Gruber, head of special cargo at the International Air Transport Association, outlines methods to reduce ‘on tarmac time’

The transport of temperature-sensitive products requires a lot of attention and the airline industry is facing multiple challenges. For goods that are originating from the healthcare sector, the associated risks generate costs for the industry stakeholders. Customers are demanding that adequate facilities, equipment and handling procedures are in place that can guarantee that a constant temperature range is maintained to protect the integrity and quality of their products throughout the journey.

Because of the sensitive nature of the products being shipped, the procedures, practices and requirements of the healthcare industry must be understood and applied by all those involved in the supply chain.

There is also increasing pressure from regulators. The pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated, with an increasing number of countries issuing their own regulations and guidance to implement and comply with. In addition, there is no global standardised certification for handling of pharmaceutical products.

Despite the challenging business environment, many airlines, freight forwarders and ground handlers have invested heavily in temperature-controlled supply chain solutions. To recognise the effort made by the industry to address the pharmaceutical manufacturers’ needs and to help foster air cargo competitiveness in the industry, IATA has developed the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics (CEIV Pharma), a globally consistent, recognised and standardised certification. This ensures that the right processes, people and infrastructure are in place to handle and transport sensitive shipments in compliance with existing international and national regulatory requirements. CEIV Pharma was introduced as an example of the commitment to certify high-quality transportation of critical commodities and to address the concerns identified in the supply chain, especially those of pharmaceutical shippers.

Though transportation begins with the shipper, IATA is putting an emphasis on the initial booking, which is the key step to successful cargo transportation. It triggers specifically appropriate handling and operational processes associated with healthcare transport and logistics. Booking as general cargo or for a specific temperature control service will surely impact the tarmac time. In recent years, increased communication between stakeholders has meant that there is now a better understanding of the concerns of shippers as well as the complexity of the airport environment. This has led to improvements in avoiding temperature excursions. Today, while this still occurs, there is a common understanding that the roles and responsibilities towards eventual elimination are shared. Stakeholders work together to ensure appropriate packaging is used upfront, and the correct booking is made at the point of origin.

It is critical that supply chain stakeholders involved in the transport of time and temperature-sensitive products have a more collaborative approach. Improving industry logistical networks to achieve excellence in time and temperature supply chain management requires transparency and collaboration among all partners. This ultimately provides the high-quality services customers demand.

CEIV Pharma is one way to address the industry’s concern, but it is important to emphasise that it was developed by the industry for the industry with a greater focus on the operational aspect of the companies’ activities. With this connection, there are a growing number of CEIV airport communities in which a group of companies operating at one airport decide to obtain the CEIV Pharma certification. With such an approach, the airport is facilitating the certification with its local stakeholders and this engagement leads to new developments to address industry needs. Currently, there are 12 airport communities around the world that have already opted for a community approach, forming a ‘pharma hub’ in their region, with nine more expected imminently.

The industry is also constantly innovating to provide pharmaceutical manufacturers with new packaging solutions, such as thermal blankets and ramps for pharma vehicles at airports – mitigating risks of temperature excursions.

Training is paramount. The training of staff handling sensitive cargo is crucial to ensure that the integrity of the product is maintained in a comprehensive temperature control environment. Therefore, training for stakeholders involved in the transport of temperature-controlled healthcare products by air is a requirement of IATA Temperature Control Regulations. It is essential that each member of the supply chain understands what the specific requirements for compliance are, as well as those of others in the supply chain. This allows a greater understanding of the entire supply chain process and smoother process integration.

Training – including the IATA Audit, Quality and Risk Management for Temperature Controlled Cargo programme, as well as IATA Temperature Controlled Cargo Operations – is also an integral part of CEIV Pharma in addition to the assessment and validation to get the certification.

Continuous improvement is vital to a quality-driven strategy and, as such, IATA will ensure that the CEIV Pharma programme is always up to date in terms of standards and regulatory requirements. In addition, IATA will follow and work closely with different industry initiatives such as Pharma.aero, that involves CEIV Pharma-certified entities to seek industry feedback and best practices.

Training is supplied on the procedures of insulating pharmaceuticals correctly for the cargo to reach its destination via numerous modes of transport.


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