How Drones Could Transform Biopharmaceutical Supply Chain Innovation - Global Trade Magazine
  July 13th, 2019 | Written by

How Drones Could Transform Biopharmaceutical Supply Chain Innovation

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  • "Drone delivery is one of the most promising answers to this problem."
  • “Our goal is to revolutionize the way goods and people move in the world."
  • "Successful tests like this one demonstrate that remarkable new humanitarian capabilities are emerging quickly.”

Drones have made the news once again. This time, to aid in swift and reliable delivery of life-saving temperature-controlled medications required in emergency situations. A collaboration between Direct Relief, Merck (MSD outside the U.S. and Canada), Softbox, AT&T and Volans-i is pushing the boundaries and capabilities of UAVs- also known as drones, and confirmed a successful fourth pilot proof-of-concept mission was conducted in the Bahamas last week.

“This successful pilot demonstrates the potential of innovative UAV technology to aid in delivery of temperature-dependent medicines and vaccines to people who critically need them,” said Craig Kennedy, senior vice president, Supply Chain, at Merck. “The potential of UAV technology is just one of the many areas in which we are innovating across our business and our supply chain to maximize our ability to save and improve lives around the world.”

As the partners focus on biopharmaceutical supply chain innovation and strengthening humanitarian efforts,  concerns on how to  overcome challenges in global regulations are considered in order to solidify official application in various global markets. Previous test flights were conducted in Switzerland and Puerto Rico.

“Experience and research consistently show that those most at risk of health crisis in disasters live in communities which are likely to be cut off from essential health care due to disruption of transportation and communications,” said Andrew Schroeder, who, among other responsibilities, leads analytics programs, data visualization, and geospatial analytics for Direct Relief.

“Drone delivery is one of the most promising answers to this problem. More remains to be done to operationalize medical cargo drones in emergencies. But successful tests like this one demonstrate that remarkable new humanitarian capabilities are emerging quickly.”

Real-time data analysis and collection in conjunction with fully autonomous controlling enabled test flight success. Additionally, the cold-chain technology ensured temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius were maintained, all while providing accurate temperature tracking and reporting.

Photo credit: Direct Relief

“Our goal is to revolutionize the way goods and people move in the world,” said Hannan Parvizian, CEO and Co-Founder of Volans-i, in San Francisco. “Successfully demonstrating our ability to make temperature-controlled drone deliveries in various climate and terrain conditions across these pilots is a first step towards realizing our vision for a world in which no one should be deprived of access to life-saving medical supplies and vaccination due to lack of infrastructure and responsiveness of the transportation ecosystem.”

“This most recent proof-of-concept test has once again demonstrated the capabilities of the Softbox SKYPOD for the transportation of life saving medicines, this time at ultra-low temperatures,” added Richard Wood, Director, Digital Connected Technologies at Softbox. “To ensure full track and trace throughout the test flight Softbox utilized Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and data dashboard services provided by AT&T. The data collected during the successful flights has shown everybody involved the power of IoT to provide full visibility of the Cold Chain, even in the most extreme environments while using innovative transportation modes.”

“Through close collaboration with Direct Relief, Merck, Volans-I and AT&T, we have successfully proven the capabilities of this unique and ground-breaking combination of cutting-edge technologies and now will focus our efforts on completing subsequent pilot projects,” Wood concluded.


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