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Agnes Shanley is senior editor of Pharmaceutical Technology.
Internet of things, advanced analytics, and blockchain solutions such as smart contracts promise to give manufacturers more control over products and supply chains.
As they develop new cold-chain services for their pharma customers, more carriers and third-party logistics companies are using Internet of things (IoT) technology to improve product monitoring and address data gaps that can result in wasted product and recalls. “With IoT, customers can be aware of potential problems as products approach their temperature storage boundaries, allowing them to ship replacement product and communicate with customers sooner,” says Vidya Subramanian, cofounder and vice-president of products for Roambee.
In 2016, DHL broadened the IoT offerings within its Temperature Management Solutions, says David Bang, CEO of global forwarding and freight for DHL’s Life Conex. The company is currently running a global IoT meshed network, and working with more than 30 airlines, ocean carriers, and technology providers, says Bang. FedEx is also using IoT for pharma and healthcare customers via its Sensaware programme, says Patrick Maier, marketing manager of Healthcare Solutions at FedEx. SenseAware, he explains, monitors current location, temperature, light exposure, relative humidity, shock thresholds, and barometric pressure, allowing shipments to be tracked in real time.
Technology providers are offering solutions to both logistics companies and manufacturers. An example is Roambee, whose IoT solution for cold chain and product traceability, the Bee, is a wireless, battery-powered IoT sensor that reports on product or asset location and condition, providing real-time data on temperature, humidity, position within the carrier vehicle, location, and other conditions. The solution is offered on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. Once sensors have been used, they can either be redeployed or returned.
Preventing product diversion
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has used the sensors to prevent product theft and diversion, placing Bees in third-party logistics suppliers’ vehicles moving product out of its factories. The company had banned night driving to help prevent product diversion, but without real-time data, found the ban hard to enforce. Using Bees made it possible to enforce the ban and prevented product diversion, the company reports (1).
Working with sensor suppliers, but focusing on the data management issues involved with IoT is Bristlecone Labs, set up in April 2016 by Mahindra Industries. The company works with a number of sensor providers and has several pharma customers, says Sweeni Poroth, cofounder and vice-president of products. Bristlecone and Roambee are working on approaches that would work with blockchain to offer chain-of-custody and condition monitoring, with electronic proof of delivery and a record of condition-monitoring data, says Subramanian. “Currently, these data don’t get saved. They may be printed out, but can be altered,” he says.
Working with T-Systems, a vendor of private cloud hosting, the companies are developing a proof of concept that would use blockchain-based smart contracts, with Roambee offering real-time product tracking, Bristlecone offering Hyperledger expertise and encrypting data that would be shared by manufacturer and supply chain partners, and T-Systems providing the cloud data hosting. This approach would provide real-time feedback on global shipments, analytics on the whereabouts of shipments, and alerts on noncompliant conditions, says Jim Sabogal, healthcare and life-sciences leader with T-Systems. Smart contracts would trigger penalties whenever a distributor allowed product to be shipped at suboptimal conditions.
In August 2017, Ambrosus Technologies and Trek Pharmaceuticals launched a programme to evaluate blockchain and smart contracts for manufacturing and supply chain (2). But such approaches will have to prove themselves in the field. “The biggest issue with a system like blockchain is the accuracy of data input into the system,” says Mark Sawicki, chief commercial officer at Cryoport. “We regularly see inconsistencies from third parties relating to scan codes and purported location of packages. Without accountability, these inconsistencies would be problematic,” he says.
Case Study: GSK Pharmaceuticals, roambee.com, www.roambee.com/our-customers/case-studies/case-study-glaxosmithkline, accessed 4 Oct. 2017.
The editors of Pharmaceutical Technology, “Trek Pharmaceuticals to Test Blockchain-Based Smart Contracts for Clinical Supply Safety,” www.pharmtech.com/trek-therapeutics-test-blockchain-based-smart-contracts-clinical-supply-chain-safety, accessed 4 Oct. 2017.