Securing the pharmaceutical supply chain with Azure IoT

Posted on 22 May, 2019

Principal Solution Specialist, IoT

You’re responsible for overseeing the transportation of a pallet of medicine halfway around the world. Drugs will travel from your pharmaceutical company’s manufacturing outbound warehouse in central New Jersey to third-party logistics firms, distributors, pharmacies, and ultimately, patients. Each box in that pallet – no bigger than the box that holds the business cards on your desk – contains very costly medicine, the product of 10 years of research and R&D spending.

Oh, and there’s a catch – actually several. You will need to ensure compliance with a long list of requirements from temperature and vibration to whether the box has been opened. The box must be kept at a stable temperature of between 2-8 degrees Celsius the whole journey. Additionally, the box is as vulnerable to shock as a Faberge egg. And the contents of each box can easily be faked. And another catch: your company isn’t in the global logistics business, and you lose oversight of those boxes of precious medicine as soon as they leave your freight bay in New Jersey.

IoT opens a new era for secure, smart cold chain asset management

It used to be that the only solution available for you to monitor and manage your cold chain was for your freight technicians to toss a data logger in the center of each outbound pallet and hope for the best. The shipment was passed from the third-party logistics firm to distributors, to warehouses, past freight forwarders, onto last-mile distribution, and finally on to the pharmacy and patients. Your visibility was minimal while your exposure to drug waste or potential counterfeiting was high.

Microsoft and Wipro envisioned a better solution. One that that would help ensure the cold chain was maintained from production to delivery to customers. And one that would limit issues like counterfeiting.

We worked with a top 20 global pharmaceutical company to develop Titan Secure, a digital supply chain and anti-counterfeiting platform. The platform was built with Microsoft Azure Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. See the Titan Secure reference architecture below to learn more.

“Azure IoT technology enabled us to develop a real-time IoT solution that provided the alerts and analytics needed to maintain the cold chain and decrease counterfeiting costs for pharmaceutical customers,” explained Sujan Thanjavuru, Head of Life Sciences Strategy & Transformation, Wipro, Ltd. “We worked with our customer to customize the sensors and develop a user interface that made it easy for managers to understand the state of their pharma shipments in real time. The result was an easy-to-use dashboard that provided valuable insights.”

“Azure IoT brings greater efficiency and reliability to customer value chains with world-class IoT and location intelligence services,” added Tony Shakib, IoT Business Acceleration Leader, Microsoft Azure.

Imagine a future with reduced counterfeit drugs and cold chain product wastage

Fast forward: imagine you’ve implemented Titan Secure from Wipro. Now, your outbound freight technician slaps a small, flexible bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacon sensor onto each box of medication, which is paired with the FDA and EMA-compliant serial number and barcode. The sensors measure temperature, humidity, shock, vibration, and tamper data. They generate geospatial alerts in real time in the event of a temperature excursion or potential counterfeiting attempts. The information is stored in and displayed from Azure. Data is transferred on the backend using Microsoft blockchain, but shipping operators don’t need to know what that means to use it. On an easy-to-use, interactive map and dashboard, technicians can easily track each individual box of your company’s product as it’s shipped from your outbound warehouse all the way to the pharmacy. Your managers receive an alert when a shipment is predicted to get too hot, so that you can call the third party and fix the problem before the shipment has to be destroyed. Once you notice tampering within one of your shipments, you’ll find out quickly what’s happened and how many boxes have been affected.

Manage your cold chain in real-time

What does this mean for your company? Wipro’s Thanjavuru explained, “Pharmaceutical companies can now digitally transform their cold chain management. They can monitor temperature and telemetry data through the entire product journey, view analytics and alerts within the Titan Secure dashboard for visibility including anti-counterfeiting support, and – with cloud connectivity – information about the shipment is available in near real-time.”