Undaunted by the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed on the world the expected surge of cell and gene therapies already in the pipeline and on the horizon will continue to materialize, and with them the complexity of riding that wave of innovation.
Just two years ago the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) forecast that it would be flooded by 2020 with about 200 Investigational New Drugs a year on top of the more than 800 active cell-based or gene therapies it was already processing. The agency projected that by 2025 it would be approving anywhere between 10 to 20 new cell and gene therapy products a year. By 2024, the FDA and the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries expect more than 40 new and innovative cell and gene therapies will be available on the market.
Although the pandemic disrupted drug discovery and development efforts early in the crisis, the industry has been quick to respond and adjust. The CG&T market will likely slow from $6.68 billion in 2019 to $6.92 in 2020 because of the pandemic, yet it is forecast to recover and grow to an estimated $13.23 billion by 2023, according to Researchandmarkets.com.
“There is more momentum than ever before to bring these innovative medicines to market,” said Doug Cook, president of Commercialization Services and Animal Health at AmerisourceBergen. “The influx of therapies offers tremendous promise and hope to patients with conditions where there are few treatment options and no cures. But these complex products introduce new considerations throughout the commercialization journey, so it’s critical that manufacturers work with a partner that can help them navigate challenges at each step—from pre-clinical and commercial logistics to market access strategies and patient support solutions.”
Because CG&T are derived from a patient’s own cells, time and temperature have become critical factors from the moment they are extracted on through the manufacturing process and then returned as a curative life-saving therapy. As such, there is little room for failure or delay throughout the supply chain.
Given the narrow window of viability of these therapies they need to be shipped as quickly as possible to preserve the time the cells are active. With such a constraint on the time those cells are viable, the pressure on logistics providers has become even more acute. Clearly, supply chain companies that have larger networks and better access to more depots are more advantageous for manufacturers, but more importantly, for patients.
“The complexity of these treatments can be staggering both from a development perspective and on into storage and transportation,” Cook said. “For the first time, the patient is now part of the supply chain where they used to be at the end of it, and that’s really different than anything we’ve seen before.”
Many, if not most, of CG&T require ultra-frozen storage from the development stage on through to the application to the patient. This is an element of the supply chain the public is becoming acutely aware of as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example: Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine must be stored in containers that can achieve between -80 to -60 degrees Celsius. C> require storage conditions from ultracold (-80 degrees Celsius) down to cryogenic temperatures (-135 to -150 degrees Celsius). To ensure the product remains viable throughout transport, the shipping containers must have the ability to keep a constant monitor of the temperatures as well as have real-time GPS tracking.
The shorter the shelf life of the cell therapy, the more intense the logistical challenges. To achieve successful outcomes in what are very patient-centric treatments—often referred to as a vein-to-vein supply chain—requires manufacturers to partner with experienced and technologically advanced wholesalers and distributors that have a global reach and ability to address issues with customs and country-specific regulatory requirements.
As the wave of these therapies begins to swell past the approval stage, the need for infrastructure that can handle CG&T has to be in place to avoid bottlenecks and delays that could limit patient access.
“Because of all the complexity, handoffs are where mistakes happen, and you need a partner who focuses on all those small details and makes the process seamless,” Cook said. “This is where experience matters, and capabilities are essential.”
In order to continue to meet and exceed its capabilities, early last year AmerisourceBergen strengthened its logistics offerings by integrating its global logistics provider, World Courier, with ICS, its third-party (3PL) provider. Now fully integrated, the service offers a complete cryogenic supply chain. World Courier and ICS offer vapor-charged cryogenic storage with fully automated technology and temperature-controlled transport from a manufacturer’s location to a storage facility and then to each point of care in dry shipment containers. The group has extensive experience in navigating international borders while maintaining temperature requirements.
With a global network of more than 140 offices, World Couriers has the ability to provide cryogenic shipping solutions that are close to patient and manufacturing locations, which provides much more flexibility as well as cutting response times for patient and hospital needs.
“It’s become clear as we navigated through COVID that everything has to be connected in ways they weren’t before,” Cook said. “As a result, we’ve invested in more technology services to better position ourselves to support CG&T and play the role of partner and connector more than ever before.
“And we are always looking at ways to offer more cohesive capabilities.”
To learn more about how AmerisourceBergen anticipates supply and demand and how we do business and the role of distributors in the supply chain check out: https://www.amerisourcebergen.com/pharmaceutical-distribution/value-of-the-distributor