2024 predictions for the pharma cold-chain evolution

Niklas Adamsson Chief Operations Officer

The global pharmaceutical logistics sector is at the heart of a health revolution. As diseases evolve and the demand for treatments rises, this industry, valued at $80 billion in 2023, is set to skyrocket to over $185 billion by 2032[1] . This growth mirrors the surge in pharmaceutical innovation, spanning from everyday vitamins to groundbreaking therapies.

In a world where health needs are rapidly changing, the pharmaceutical industry responds with an array of life-saving drugs, many needing precise, temperature-controlled transportation. Let’s explore the key trends set to shape the pharmaceutical cold chain in 2024 – a sector that carries an immense responsibility with lives depending on its success.

Strengthening the infrastructure

Though it may seem far behind us now, the pandemic brought to light the diverse requirements for transporting medicines. These range from controlled room temperature to ultra-cold storage for advanced treatments like mRNA vaccines and cell-and-gene therapies. This prompted major investments in cold chain infrastructure globally. Much of the temporary infrastructure has now become permanent, improving the sector’s ability to handle various pharmaceuticals.

This couldn’t have come at a more critical time. As the pharmaceutical market expands, driven by significant R&D investment and a continuous flow of novel drugs[2], it is vital in making the industry more capable of handling global health challenges and changing patient needs. In 2024, we’ll see continued investment in this infrastructure. This will mean that essential medications can be delivered reliably and safely, preparing the industry for any unforeseen events in the future.

Growing focus on sustainability

The pharma cold chain industry will work harder to minimise environmental impact without compromising patient care. While at face value air freight may not be the most environmentally friendly shipping option, it remains crucial for timely deliveries, particularly for critical patient needs. The answer is to make air cargo containers more eco-friendly.

The industry is increasingly prioritising lightweight, space-efficient transport solutions, alongside efforts to improve cargo space. This reduces the number of flights and, consequently, the environmental impact.

There’s also a notable move from single-use packaging to ‘forever-use’ alternatives, aiming to reduce waste and extend the life of containers. Yet, this poses challenges in less developed areas with limited infrastructure where single-use solutions are sometimes necessary for delivering medicine to remote locations.

Digitalisation is also playing an increasingly vital role in these sustainability efforts. It helps monitor and, where possible, prevent temperature deviations during transport, reducing product wastage. As the cold chain industry takes these steps toward environmental responsibility, it will contribute to the broader pharmaceutical sector’s sustainable transformation.

Adoption of new technologies

In 2023, we began to see the adoption of new technologies in pharmaceutical logistics and this trend will only accelerate. Real-time tracking is becoming essential. It reduces empty cargo movements and helps minimise disruptions, making shipping medicines smoother.

At the same time, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming more prominent. These technologies help the industry to adapt to changing climate conditions and logistical needs, leading to smarter decisions about shipping routes and methods. This adaptability is crucial as the market grows and diversifies.

AI takes it a step further by introducing predictive analysis. By providing insights into container performance, it improves the reliability of fleets, protecting pharmaceuticals during transit.

Improved supply chain resilience

This technological progress allows for a more flexible and data-driven approach in the pharma cold chain. One that better balances sustainability with the essential task of delivering medicines worldwide. In 2024, effective data collection and detailed analysis will help the industry manage risks better.

As shipments can now be tracked with data logged every 10 minutes or more frequently, this wealth of information gathered over time is a goldmine for assessing risks and planning future shipments. For example, past shipment data can guide the best routes to avoid long customs waits or exposure to extreme temperatures.

Currently, the industry is working to use data more effectively. By mid to late 2024, we can expect to see the initial results of these efforts. This strategic use of data is a natural progression for the industry, ensuring each shipment is as safe and efficient as possible.

In summary, the pharmaceutical cold chain industry is set for transformative changes in 2024. Strengthened infrastructure, increased sustainability efforts and the adoption of new technologies are the key trends driving this evolution. These changes aim to make sure medicines are delivered safely and efficiently while also reducing the industry’s environmental footprint.


[1] https://www.precedenceresearch.com/pharmaceutical-logistics-market

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/309466/global-r-and-d-expenditure-for-pharmaceuticals/