Dendreon box

For cold chain tracking—think in color

Dendreon finds a low-tech solution to identifying its product shipments in transit


At various points in most pharma supply chains, boxes of product pile up and need to be sorted. The pileup can occur at a distribution center, or in the central pharmacy of a hospital network, for example. Warehouse workers hustle through the pile and—eventually—specific items wind up where they need to be.

However, when one of those boxes might contain highly engineered, living cells—such as some of the latest immunotherapies—time is of the essence. Dendreon, one of the earliest immunotherapy companies with its autologous Provenge (sipuleucel-T) treatment, must reach a specific patient within 18 hours of leaving the Dendreon processing facility. Cold chain management is essential throughout the journey. A needless delay in a hospital pharmacy or at an airport staging room could represent a cascade of problems for the delivery and treatment.

To avoid some if not all such logistics problems, Dendreon has landed on a startlingly simple yet effective solution: a bright orange box containing the vital shipment (Fig. 1). In a crowded sorting room where a technician might be sent to locate the box, “Look for the orange one,” is an easy-to-follow instruction, according to Christina Yi, COO at Dendreon, who provided some insights into Dendreon’s extensive experience in delivering autologous therapies at this fall’s IQPC Global Cold Chain Forum (Boston, Oct. 17-18).

Fig. 2. Dendreon’s circa-2012 shipping parcel.

As it happens, Provenge was covered closely by Pharmaceutical Commerce when it was introduced, and a 2012 story about its innovative supply chain showed the original box (Fig. 2; see p. 23 in the digital edition). Yi noted that the company basically had to invent many of the logistics processes now coming to fruition in cellular and genetic therapies, which involve extracting cells from the patient, shipping them to a processing facility, then sending back for re-infusion. For this technology, “The supply chain makes the product,” Yi notes.

Cold chain containers, whether parcel size (like Dendreon’s) or pallet-size air-freight containers, are branded with the container’s logo, but are otherwise undistinguished. Most (at least those whose trip involves air cargo) will also have an ISTA “time and temperature” warning label—all of which are actions to help hard-pressed logistics workers maintain the package’s environmental integrity. Dendreon’s color-coding scheme could lead to a rainbow of package designs as more biologic shipments occur.