Dire need of quality ‘Cold Chain’ infrastructure for pharmaceuticals in India and its efficient management through Public Private Partnership initiatives.

Why Cold Chain for pharmaceuticals?Drugs are complex entities and many of these are temperature sensitive in nature. This entails them requiring precise and continuous temperature conditions in transit in order to retain their potency and resultant efficacy.Many life saving drugs including biotech products and vaccines fall under such category. Any break in the cold chain process for such drugs can lead to immediate denaturing or deterioration in their quality parameters. It is imperative that a careful consideration is given by all concerned including government agencies mainly at the seaports and airports while providing storage space at their warehouses for such drugs.

Current bottlenecks and lack of proper cold chain infrastructure:

Currently in India there are bottlenecks at the Airports and Seaports that include authorities not being able to assure cold room space despite getting advance notices from the pharmaceutical companies about the possible unloading of large consignments of temperature sensitive products.

Some of the other gaps include improper training and refresher courses for the handling staff who handle such products at the ports. Storage of Pharmaceutical products along with meat and food products is against the GMP norms.

Cold Chain medicines require different and special temperature control:

Cold Chain Medicines require special temperature controlled Cold storage. There are two commonly recommended temperatures specified on labels of cold chain products:

1. Products requiring temperature between 2 to 8 degree centigrade

2. Products requiring temperature around -10 to -20 degree centigrade

Cold Chain should be an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities which will maintain required temperature range of 2 to 8 degree centigrade or -10 to -20 degree centigrade as per products requirements.

Proper Cold Chain Management system is essential to ensure right product quality:

Proper Cold Chain Management of pharmaceuticals will ensure that the right quality of such products is maintained not only during storage but during transportation also to meet regulatory specifications. There is a greater focus and stringent regulatory guidelines/standards are in place today in the developed markets around the world for strict adherence to right storage and transportation process for cold chain sensitive pharmaceuticals.

It should be kept in mind always that Cold Chain products are mostly sensitive biological substances that can become less effective or lose potency if not properly stored.

Some examples:

Products requiring 2 to 8 degree storage will not be effective if:

i. They are frozen or stored below 2 degree centigrade
ii. Exposed to temperatures above 8 degree centigrade
iii. Exposed to direct sunlight or fluorescent light

The loss of potency is cumulative and irreversible. If products are exposed to conditions outside the established range, the quality may be adversely affected, reducing their assigned shelf life, diminishing their effectiveness or making them ineffective. The exposed product may look just as the same – the loss of potency may not be visible.

World class SOPs for Cold Chain storage and handling facilities are essential :

Quality of storage and handling of Cold Chain Pharmaceutical products at Airports and Seaports in the course of export from or import into India requires special care and attention. Since multiple products are stored and handled at Seaports/ Airports, personnel may not be able to appreciate the special need for Cold Chain pharmaceuticals’ storage & handling. Thus, there should be Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for storage and handling of pharmaceuticals laid down by the Port Management authorities, so that the personnel handling pharmaceuticals strictly adhere to the pre-set norms.

Pharmaceutical products requiring cold chain facilities are rapidly growing in numbers:

Pharmaceutical Products for which efficient Cold Chain facilities are required are rapidly growing in numbers. In their movement across the supply chain from the manufacturers to the patients, the medicines are handled and stored by various stakeholders like transporters, Airports, Seaports, Distributors, Stockists, Retailers etc. Since the storage and handling of Cold Chain Pharmaceuticals Products are unique, an uninterrupted Cold Chain is to be maintained in the entire supply chain network without any discontinuity, even for a short while. This will ensure that medicinal products of high quality reach the patients, always. it is, therefore, very important for all concerned stakeholders to ensure maintenance of proper Cold Chain facilities.

Government plan of “Pharma Zones” in India:

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has planned a separate dedicated controlled environment – ‘Pharma Zone’, within the cargo premises at Airports and Seaports for proper storage of Pharmaceutical products in line with Good Manufacturing Practices and Good Distribution Practices so as to assure right quality, safety and efficacy of Pharmaceutical products, which are to be either imported or exported.

Currently no ‘Pharma Zones’ in India:

At present there are no ‘Pharma Zones’ in India. However, Mumbai International Airport Private Limited (MIAL) has created 4 new cold rooms for pharmaceuticals. It has been reported that the new Cargo Terminal of Delhi International Airports Limited (DIAL), which is expected to be commissioned later in the year, will have around 4000 square metres of additional cold room capacity compared to the current cold room capacity of 400 square metres. Similarly, MIAL is also planning for a dedicated Cold Room facility for Pharmaceutical Products in their new set–up.

Need for outsourcing Cold Chain services:

In the developed markets of the world there are private cold chain storage and third party logistics providers to offer contract logistics and storage services especially to cater to the growing demands of the Biopharmaceutical segment, which is now the fastest growing manufacturing sector within global pharmaceutical industry.

It is expected that spend of the Biopharmaceutical companies towards outsourcing of cold chain facilities will grow by over 10% to 15% for the next three to five years in the developed markets. India being the second largest producers of Biopharmaceuticals after China, similar opportunities exist in the country.

In India some renowned international courier companies like DHL and World Courier have been reported to have developed an efficient cold-chain management process, especially for the pharmaceutical companies to properly maintain the cold chain in their logistics network.


A world class cold chain infrastructure and its efficient management within the country will help immensely to Indian domestic pharmaceutical companies, as well, as they are exploring more and more opportunities to export Biopharmaceuticals in the global market. To achieve this objective modern cold chain warehouses and their efficient management as per regulatory guidelines will play a key role in ensuring right product quality standard that India will export.

Over a period of time cold-chain management practices of global standards will be required to achieve this goal. Currently for both import and export of cold-chain sensitive pharmaceuticals, as indicated above, the available infrastructural facilities pose to be one of the key challenges encountered by the industry to maintain high product quality during shipment and warehousing at the ports. Individual pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly, India have their own vehicles equipped with cold-chain management systems for transportation of their cold chain sensitive products.

Greater initiative by the DCGI in particular in this area, in collaboration with the Indian pharmaceutical industry, sooner, is absolutely essential. For the patients’ sake.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.