Grand Challenges in Pharmaceutical Research Series: Ridding the Cold Chain for Biologics

Pharm Res. 2021 Jan;38(1):3-7. doi: 10.1007/s11095-021-03008-w. Epub 2021 Feb 8.


Biologics are complex pharmaceuticals that include formulated proteins, plasma products, vaccines, cell and gene therapy products, and biological tissues. These products are fragile and typically require cold chain for their delivery and storage. Delivering biologics, while maintaining the cold chain, whether standard (2°C to 8°C) or deepfreeze (as cold as -70°C), requires extensive infrastructure that is expensive to build and maintain. This poses a huge challenge to equitable healthcare delivery, especially during a global pandemic. Even when the infrastructure is in place, breaches of the cold chain are common. Such breaches may damage the product, making therapeutics and vaccines ineffective or even harmful. Rather than strengthening the cold chain through building more infrastructure and imposing more stringent guidelines, we suggest that money and effort are best spent on making the cold chain unnecessary for biologics delivery and storage. To meet this grand challenge in pharmaceutical research, we highlight areas where innovations are needed in the design, formulation and biomanufacturing of biologics, including point-of-care manufacturing and inspection. These technological innovations would rely on fundamental advances in our understanding of biomolecules and cells.

Keywords: COVID-19; biologics; cold chain; vaccine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Products / standards*
  • Biological Products / therapeutic use
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Research / standards*
  • Pharmaceutical Research / trends
  • Refrigeration / standards*
  • Refrigeration / trends
  • Vaccines / standards
  • Vaccines / therapeutic use


  • Biological Products
  • Vaccines