Single-use ice packs, expanded polystyrene foam, and corrugated cases are popular pharmaceutical packaging options for transporting temperature-sensitive medicines. But as more and more cell and gene therapies enter development, the need for secure, sustainable cold storage is gaining traction.
To meet this demand, Ember Technologies has partnered with Cardinal Health to develop the Ember Cube, a self-refrigerated shipping box that features cloud-based temperature reporting capabilities and GPS location tracking. Furthermore, Ember’s return-to-sender technology allows the cube to be reused hundreds of times, thereby reducing waste and eliminating single-use packaging.
“We designed the Ember Cube to be in constant communication with our cloud servers throughout the shipping journey,” explains Clay Alexander, Ember’s founder and CEO. “To accomplish this, we installed a built-in cellular radio in each Ember Cube. This allows Cardinal Health to receive real-time alerts and notifications from the Ember Cube on our cloud-based dashboard.”
One of the benefits of using cellular technology is the ability to predict temperature deviations and intervene if necessary.
“We can use our algorithms to actively predict if a temperature excursion could happen in the future based on shipping delays, unforeseen weather conditions, etcetera,” says Alexander. “The Ember Cube will notify Cardinal Health’s operation center, allowing for the appropriate action to be taken to avoid a temperature excursion.”
Once a healthcare provider receives a shipment, he or she removes the medicine from the cube and pushes the return-to-sender button located at the top of the box, which generates a return shipping label on the built-in e-ink screen. Next, the onboard cellular radio communicates with the third-party shipping service to schedule a pickup, automatically providing its current GPS location. After the cube is picked up, it is returned to Cardinal Health’s distribution center at the company’s expense.
The Ember Cube is available in multiple sizes to accommodate payloads of 125 to 900 cubic inches. The exterior shell is made from expanded polypropylene foam with a robust thermoelectric refrigeration system inside that keeps temperature-sensitive medicines between 2º and 8º C.
“The Ember Cube was designed to stand up to the harshest of conditions during transit and to protect the high value of its pharmaceutical contents as well as the onboard active refrigeration equipment inside,” notes Alexander. “For this reason, it is not able to fold up for its return shipment.”
Cardinal Health plans to launch a customer pilot for the Ember Cube in 2022. Details will be announced closer to the launch date.