IT vendors look to extend drug-tracking software to cold-chain reporting

Pharmaceutical Commerce, Pharmaceutical Commerce - May 2009,

GS1’s EPCIS communication standard might play in shipment tracking

Both Axway (Scottsdale, AZ) and IBM (Armonk, NY) have invested heavily in developing standards-based track-and-trace systems to meet future drug pedigree requirements. Both have installations where such tracking is being initiated (the most recent being IBM’s at Golden State Medical Supply—see related item). And now, both are looking to capitalize on the data-gathering and transmitting capabilities of their solutions to tackle another pharma supply-chain problem: cold chain management.

“Historically, cold chain management has been handled well for point-to-point shipments—monitoring a product that moves form point A to point B, and then downloading the temperature profile data,” says Kim Loughead, solution marketing manager at Axway. “What we’re examining is the usefulness of aggregating data to provide end-to-end visibility, so that problems like making in-transit adjustments can be carried out.” The business case for this is not completely clear yet: major carriers such as UPS or DHL offer tracking systems, and have end-to-end delivery capabilities; conversely, other freight-forwarding companies have developed IT systems to link up the tracking databases of multiple carriers when a shipment has been handed off. At the product/package level, temperature-monitoring vendors have software that collects and organizes the data from their dataloggers.

But none of these are in use currently to deliver the end-to-end visibility so that multiple clients—such as regulatory affairs officers of pharma companies as well as the transportation or supply chain managers—can easily gain access to the data. The track-and-trace technology was developed originally to meet now-postponed regulatory standards and to address the threats of drug diversion or counterfeiting in the supply chain. Paul Chang, emerging technologies business strategist at IBM, told the audience of the CBI Drug Tracking Conference (Philadelphia, Apr. 28-29) that not only is IBM’s Traceability Server already in use for managing food deliveries in retail supermarkets, but it is about to be evaluated by a major pharma wholesaler to manage cold-chain reporting. “It just makes sense to apply this technology when you have to collect data from many different sources, but want to look at it as a whole,” he said.

For its part, Axway’s Loughead says that they are in discussions with several logistics providers and pharma manufacturers, and are planning to start up a pilot this summer.