No matter how you measure it, the American pharmaceutical industry is gigantic: the $446B Americans spent on medicines in 2016 represented 45% of the global market; while Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Switzerland are major players, the United States’ pharmaceutical R&D spend in 2014, $89B, comprised 62% of global pharmaceutical R&D spending. The United States is also the world’s largest exporter of pharmaceuticals, with exports valued at $86B in 2015.
Some of the most valuable drugs being produced these days are temperature-sensitive biopharmaceuticals (more on that later), but the refrigerated supply chain—or ‘cold chain’—that enables this lucrative export business is low-tech and wasteful, often amounting to little more than styrofoam coolers and frozen gel packs. The global pharmaceutical industry spent $13.4B shipping temperature-sensitive biopharmaceuticals in 2017, but the World Health Organization estimated that up to 40% of vaccines shipped worldwide degraded due to temperature variation during transport. More than 60% of the temperature deviations affecting the quality of biopharmaceutical shipments occurred on airport tarmacs, which experience extreme temperatures. Air freight logistics personnel under time crunches often plan ahead, and park pallets next to aircraft hours before departure, where they can be exposed to temperatures from -40° F in Anchorage to 120° in Dubai.