Pharma sales reps get serious about cold-chain product handling

Packaging vendors are finding eager customers in sales operations

At 2015 Cold Chain Forum (Boston, Oct. 5-9), a picture emerged of how leading pharma companies are managing the sampling programs involving temperature-controlled products: Under both the Pharmaceutical Drug Marketing Act, and as part of good manufacturing practices, sales reps are obliged to take strict control of the volume of samples they hand out to physicians and other clients, and to preserve the quality of those samples. In the case of temperature-controlled products (which would include recently introduced biologics), individual dosages could be worth thousands of dollars). An improperly stored biologic drug sample should not be handed out, thus representing a lost investment by the drug’s manufacturer.

Michael DeMartin, senior manager, sample optimization at Sanofi, gave a presentation detailing how its 1,600 reps employ reusable containers (from Pelican Biothermal). Reps are trained in proper assembly of the packaging, and quality checks and audits are a routine part of the process. DeMartin says that the program has been in use for most of Sanofi’s insulin brands (Lantus, Afreeza and Toujeo). The sampling program has “dramatic” effects on uptake by patients, he says.

Meanwhile, another packaging vendor, Jarden Life Sciences (Fishers, IN) is approaching the task in a high-tech manner: The company has developed a powered (active) container, the Envirocooler ActiVault, which plugs into the 120V-DC power outlet of most cars, and can keep pharma products under refrigerative conditions essentially indefinitely (some cars’ power outlet shuts down when the engine is off—but some do not). The unit, which now has upgraded insulation and data logging, has a capacity of 25 liters. “The device’s temperature setpoint can be dialed in by the sample-management team, and as long as it’s plugged it properly, its ease of use is unmatched,” says Scott Dyvig, program manager at Jarden. While the up-front cost of the active system is more than passive systems, the savings in rep prep time, and the reduced risk of product spoilage can make up for that difference. GlaxoSmithKline is one satisfied customer of the technology.