Standards needed to protect booming Asian pharma market

SINGAPORE — While much of the air cargo market has had its hiccups so far this year, one constant has been the strong outlook for the Asian pharmaceuticals market, which is expected to grow 8.3 percent by 2021 — that is, if the air cargo business can keep it well protected and cool enough in transit.

Dominique Perron, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Switzerland, kicked off Day 2 of the World Cargo Symposium with his presentation on the generally sunny pharma outlook, driven by the ever-increasing population and growing senior demographics that create demand for healthcare products in Southeast Asia. 

“In China alone, healthcare is to grow by more than US$50 billion by 2022. So, it’s going to be extremely positive for pharma growth,” Perron said, adding that India is another rapidly growing market, in demand for pharma, that should be on the logistics industry radar.

But capitalizing on the high-value market is not without its obstacles. Perron said that while technology has improved, “mastering cold chain remains a challenge.” Transporting the highly temperature-sensitive products over long distances to hot climates is a balancing act, and there’s a lot on the line when considering the high-value of the goods. 

“We need more standards and controls on the chain to make sure the medicine is still valued at the end,” he said. “The key issue is trust… If someone is not playing the game,” i.e., if a supply chain member is not participating in the facilitation of maintaining a vacuum-tight cold-chain, “the product or the vaccine is gone and the money is wasted.”

Even half a degree in fluctuation could mean a case of pharma products worth thousands of dollars could be ruined, which is a legitimate risk when operating along trade lanes between Europe and Asia, for instance.

Perron named artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning as technologies that stand to revolutionize the transport of pharmaceuticals to Asia, by helping logistics companies demonstrate “from A to Z” where the product is in the supply chain in order to avoid spoilage. But he reiterated the industry consensus that there’s still a ways to go before the benefits of such technologies are actualized. “We are still moving but not as fast as expected,” he said.

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