Looking to Develop a Pharmaceutical Cold Chain in the Middle East?

Pharma IQ

Cold chains are growing in importance across the pharmaceutical industry as the number of products requiring temperature controlled shipments increases.

With the Middle East hoping to grab an increasingly large slice of the market, as well as cope with the healthcare challenges being presented by its own population, it will have to look to develop its capabilities in this area accordingly.

Insulin is one of the key products which requires temperature controlled storage, and the Middle East is one of the regions with the greatest prevalence of diabetes in the world.

According to figures published in a study by United Health Group, by 2020 it is estimated 32 percent of the adult population in the United Arab Emirates will have diabetes or pre-diabetes and many cases currently remain undiagnosed.

The cost of managing this will reach $8.52 billion (£5.3 billion) in the next decade under current trends, including treatment with insulin.

Dr. Ala Alwan, the assistant director general for non-communicable diseases and mental health at the World Health Organization, told the New York Times: "There is absolutely no doubt that diabetes is one of the major problems our region is dealing with; we have extremely high rates and continuously rising trends."

Such an increase will place significant pressure on a cold chain, which currently seems to be performing well.

Research by the Dubai Health Authority found 88 per cent of private clinics currently have specific policies in place and there were high levels of compliance measured with regard to correct monitoring of the temperature vaccines are stored at.

Vaccines also present a key opportunity for the region providing the cold chain facilities offered reach international standards.

Novartis late last year signed a 20-year deal with the Arab Company for Pharmaceutical Products which sees the latter distributing a licensing a number of vaccines for the treatment of common diseases in Saudi Arabia, including Menveo, Quinvaxem and Agrippal.

Andrin Oswald, division head of Novartis vaccines and diagnostics, told Outsourcing-Pharma: "The partnership with Arabio shows our commitment to the Middle East."

The partnership also highlighted the significant potential of a market for a meningitis vaccine in the region, as Saudi Arabia requires an up-to-date vaccine for those on pilgrimages in the country.

A spokesperson told InPharm: "There is a significant unmet need in countries with large Muslim populations participating in the Hajj/Umrah pilgrimages, as these pilgrimages create crowded conditions that may increase the risk of contracting meningococcal disease."

It's clear the opportunities are there for the Middle East, but regulations surrounding cold chains are only likely to become stricter in the future.

Reports have suggested that with more health authorities defaulting to International Air Transport Association regulations on perishable cargos they are demanding similarly strict conditions from other sections of the cold chain.

Nick Basta, editor of Pharmaceutical Commerce, added: "Pharma companies are making their internal processes more rigorous, and demanding more quality assurance measures from their logistics providers."

Pharmaceutical Commerce's latest Bio/Pharma Cold Chain Sourcebook, suggested this trend is being advanced further by updates to the European Union's Good Distribution practices and updated guidance from the US Pharmacopeia and the Parenteral Drug Association.

Some countries in the region have already caught on to this and taken steps to boost their cold chain security.

Saudi Arabia was cited among those which have introduced a entry requirement making it mandatory for individual shipments of pharmaceuticals requiring temperature controlled storage to be documented on arrival.

By 2015, the global market for cold chain packaging and transportation is expected to hit $8.7 billion. The Middle East must ensure it replicates the successful steps it has already taken and continues to tighten its policies to capture its potential share of this market – both as a pharmaceutical industry destination in its own right and as a gateway to the huge markets in Asia.