6 challenges of pharmaceutical cold chain in India

Adrian Gomes & Shubhamoy Saha Strategic Account Managers, India

India is the world’s third largest producer of pharmaceuticals in terms of volume. Low costs of manufacturing as well as government subsidies for biosimilars development makes India attractive for export production, with many Western-Indian partnerships, and the demand in the US and Europe is expected to sustain a high growth rate over a longer period.

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As India’s pharmaceutical exports move from generics to biosimilars, new challenges arise. Following are six specific challenges of pharmaceutical cold chain in India.

1. A fragmented market with low visibility of the cold chain

India’s pharmaceutical industry is fragmented and often price sensitive, with companies entering and leaving the market at a high rate compared to other countries. To make a rough generalization, pharmaceutical logistics in India is cost-conscious and transaction based, and there might be a lack of partnerships along the cold chain.

With a low visibility of the cold chain, it becomes more difficult to estimate total cost of transport. You might end up paying a much higher price for your transport than your first estimate. A good advice is to plan in advance and make total cost comparisons between different freight alternatives. Partnering with local experts is generally a good move to make your cold chain transports run smoothly.

2. Paper work and administration

You can expect more paper work and administration compared to Western countries. Before leaving the manufacturing facilities, local authorities will inspect the shipment and approve documents, a procedure that will take up to one day. Similarly, when shipping to India, it will take one to three days to clear the shipment. The process includes pre-clearance and actual clearance.


3. Trucking and delays

There could be long distances of trucking to and from airports. Margins for trucking are generally low and the petrol price is high, which could be a challenge when shipping sensitive pharmaceuticals. Trucks can be stuck for hours in traffic and there have been scenarios where trucks have been stuck at airports for three to four days.

Local challenges with infrastructure could lead to a snowball effect, where a delay early in the chain disrupts the whole transportation. By working with local partners with knowledge of the Indian transport sector, you can act proactively to prevent delays. Planning in advance in collaboration with your freight forwarder and other partners in the cold chain will mitigate the risks.

4. Special airline services needed to ensure an unbroken cold chain

Containers are opened at customs and go through X-ray before being loaded on the other side of the scanner. In some cases, there is a risk that goods will stay on the tarmac for one to two hours before being loaded onto the aircraft. The shipment will thus be exposed to a considerable amount of human intervention and manual handling. This should be less of an issue, however, if the airline offers pharma services. Make sure that you partner with the right service providers and airlines to ensure an unbroken cold chain.

To further guarantee an unbroken cold chain, a complete door-to-door program should be qualified and agreed to by all accountable stakeholders. In most instances, this means a bond can be processed which allows the airline, freight forwarder, and shipper to move a container off airport without payment of duty for the container to customs. This uncommon procedure is a basic step of Good Cold Chain Practice. Not all airlines provide bonds. Please check with your freight forwarder or Envirotainer for more information about this service.

5. High temperatures and limited availability of cold storage

There might be limited cold storage at airports and not all airports have cold storage facilities. Goods are often unloaded/loaded at night, but temperatures can still be very high.

Temperature-controlled containers or similar packaging solutions can be used protect the shipment for extended periods in order to minimize the risk of damage due to high ambient temperatures.


6. Lack of quality orientation and training

India’s cost-conscious pharmaceutical industry is evolving towards a higher focus on quality, with the booming of the biologics industry. Consequently, there is a higher demand for trained personnel along the cold chain. It is advisable to check in advance that people along the cold chain have received proper training and education.

Find the right partners

To take advantage of the business opportunities in India it is important to have partners with a good knowledge of the local market and how to build an efficient cold chain logistic solution.

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