3D-Printed Pharmaceuticals & their impact on the Cold Chain

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Cathy Roberson

Innovations in cold chain continue to grow in such areas as sensors, packaging and traceability. In addition, 3D-printing, while perhaps currently not as impactful as some cold chain innovations, its potential could eventually change manufacturing, distribution and shipping of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

According to industry experts, healthcare accounts for less than 5% of all investments made in the $700 million 3D printing industry. However, this is expected to grow to 21% over the next ten years. In fact, one market research report indicates that 3D printing for medical applications could climb to $2.13 billion by 2020.

The traditional production and distribution chain in pharmaceuticals consists of three stages:

·         The manufacture of the medicine

·         Distribution for dispersing

·         The point of dispensing distributes the product to the patients using the medication.

3D printing could eliminate the need for multiple phases of manufacturing and distribution, and allow for the consumer to obtain the medication in a much shorter length of time.

In addition, the field of personalized medicine could be redefined by 3D printing. The Academy of Medical Sciences defines this field as “a medical procedure that separates patients into different groups—with medical decisions, practices, interventions and/or products being tailored to the individual patient based on their predicted response or risk of disease”. In other words, some patients require medications that are faster acting while others may need medications to be released gradual over a longer period of time and dosage levels may vary as well.

Imagine, a doctor sends a prescription to a pharmacy that uses a 3D printer to create a custom formulation based on the special needs of a patient or perhaps a patient is able to print his own medications from home with raw materials purchased at a pharmacy or who knows, delivered via drone or by an autonomous delivery truck. This futuristic outlook involving cost shifting to the patient is not likely to occur soon. The requirement of purchasing a printer and raw materials could be prohibitive for many. It also would raise numerous quality control and regulatory questions.

David Hodgson, partner in Deloitte’s healthcare and life sciences team, noted in a recent news article from The Guardian that 3D printing poses many such questions. “The current global, regional and local regulatory environment is incapable of accommodating the ambiguity of a 3D printing process. Are we regulating the printer as a medical device, the ingredients, or the person or organization doing the printing as the manufacturer and distributor?” Posing the question of where liability will rest in the case of an adverse reaction.

Still, 3D printing has caught the eye of logistics providers. For example, UPS announced it would launch a distributed, on-demand manufacturing network that links its global logistics network with 3D printers at The UPS Store in more than 60 US locations and Fast Radius’ On Demand Production Platform and 3D printing factory in Louisville KY.

In addition, SAP announced an agreement with UPS to create an end-to-end industrial solution. SAP’s extended supply chain solutions will be integrated with UPS’s on-demand manufacturing solution and global logistics network to simplify the industrial manufacturing process from digitization, certification, order-to-management and delivery.

This could potentially redefine spare parts logistics and inventory management requirements for manufacturers including medical devices and perhaps pharmaceuticals by producing needed parts (or medicines) on-demand and closer to the manufacturer, distributor or elsewhere; thus reducing shipping costs as well.

In addition, UPS has also expanded its medical device field stocking locations (FSL) in Europe. These locations could perhaps one day offer 3D printing services.

The possibilities are endless. While many of the applications for 3D printing do not involve cold chain yet, it will come and reshape the cold chain logistics further.

What are your thoughts on innovations in cold chain logistics? On behalf of the 14th Annual Cold Chain GDP & Temperature Management Logistics Global Forum, Logistics Trends & Insights LLC is conducting a survey for an upcoming free white paper on the topic.

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