Advances in process management and monitoring technology could help support the fast, safe and efficient roll-out of critical medicines including new Covid-19 vaccines.

That was the message from Checkit’s Healthcare Account Director Mike Hobby, and Chief Product Officer David Davies, when they spoke on the PharmSci Today podcast this month.

They were invited to talk about cold chain medicine management on the PharmSci Today podcast hosted by Prof Gino Martini, Chief Scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

David Davies told podcast listeners: “The aim is to maintain a vaccine in known and controlled conditions. The Covid vaccine, in particular, is passing through a lot of stages and you need rigorous control throughout. That applies from distribution hubs to hospitals and all the way to the smaller community sites where the vaccine is going to be administered to patients.”

Technology is evolving to not only provide real-time data on the condition of temperature-critical medicines, wherever they are, but also to prompt, guide and log the actions people may need to take in response to any problematic variation.

Temperature monitoring evolution

At its most basic, monitoring was the simple act of using a thermometer and noting down the readings on paper. The introduction of data loggers brought technology into this process for the first time, but readings were only available retrospectively, upon the completion of a journey.

There was a major step forward when wired sensors became available and, with them, the ability for measurements to be taken and transmitted in real time. The arrival of wireless sensors expanded the scale of automated monitoring, with vast amounts of live and historic data now stored securely in the cloud and made available wherever needed via online dashboards.

This evolution shifted monitoring from a passive to a proactive approach. Connected automated monitoring provides for detailed analysis, an early warning of potential problems and opportunities to take corrective action.

However, just as the pharmaceutical communities’ rapid development of Covid vaccinations have benefitted from major innovation, so too could the distribution of the vaccines, which poses significant logistical challenges due to the scale and urgency of the programme, plus the specific temperature requirements of the vaccines.

Process management innovation

“We’re starting to see how we can keep the cold chain under even greater control by guiding what happens when something is wrong,” said David Davies. “We can use new mobile technology to prompt someone to respond to an out-of-range temperature incident, putting all the information they need at their fingertips so they can either dispose of a batch or use it more quickly, for example.”

The -70C conditions required by the Pfizer / BioNTech mRNA vaccine poses particular complexities that new technology could help to overcome.

“This technology could be so valuable for vaccines that need to be used within a certain timeframe once they come out of freezing conditions,” David Davies told podcast listeners. “These new tools can actually tell you how long you’ve got until the vaccine expires, so you’re wasting as little as possible and building confidence in the supply chain journey of any particular batch, without having to travel between sites to check.”

Public confidence will be a crucial factor in the success of the vaccination programme and Connected Workflow Management can enhance trust in the process.

Mike Hobby said: “We have to be sure that the right procedures are being followed at all times, not only to satisfy the requirements of the CQC and MHRA but to give the public the confidence that vaccines are safe and effective. There is also potential to reduce the huge cost of medicines that are lost through exposure to unsuitable conditions during storage or distribution. And what we want to do is remove the burden of compliance from people who are under incredible pressure and need to get on with their core healthcare responsibilities.”