Drug major Cipla on Tuesday said it has launched drone-powered deliveries of critical medicines – cardiac, respiratory and other essential chronic therapies – to hospitals and pharmacies across Himachal Pradesh in partnership with Skype Air Mobility, a Gurugram-based drone delivery company.
Cipla is the first among large Indian pharmaceutical companies to adopt drone-based deliveries to facilitate expedited supply to stockists in remote areas, it claimed.
The Mumbai-based firm said the use of drones will support the on-time delivery of its medicines to chemists and clinics in remote areas, and minimise risks of affecting cold chain products due to temperature excursions.
The company said it has already completed several drone deliveries in Himachal Pradesh, covering a distance of approximately 50 km in less than 25 minutes.
“This has been vital amid adverse and prevailing weather conditions that have impacted conventional transportation routes in the state,” it said in a statement.
It also aims to scale the service in the future through distribution to hospitals and expand market coverage to inaccessible and hilly terrains such as Uttarakhand and the Northeast, the company said.
“As we accelerate our digital agenda across all functions, implementing drone-powered distribution enhances our supply chain resilience, strengthens connections with channel partners, helps us stay future-ready and maintain reliable, prompt delivery of our trusted high-quality drugs to stockists and patients in the region,” Cipla’s Global Supply Chain head, Swapn Malpani, said.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) released guidelines for the drone delivery of pharmaceutical products last year.
ICMR conducted a pilot to deliver Covid-19 vaccines in Manipur and Nagaland through drones in October 2021.
Diagnostic players and tech startups have been trying to use drone technology to deliver medicines and samples to remote areas.
Digital healthcare firm Tata 1mg started drone delivery of diagnostic samples and medication in Dehradun around the end of 2022.
SRL Diagnostics (now Agilus Diagnostics) also joined hands with Skye Air Mobility in April last year to focus on drone delivery for collecting samples and transporting them to labs in Gurugram and Mumbai.
Tech startups like TechEagle have partnered with state governments like Himachal Pradesh to deliver medicines and vaccines in hard-to-access areas, especially during winter.
Last year, it initiated the delivery of medicines from primary health centres (PHCs) to sub-centres in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu district through drones.
While the trend is likely to pick up, an industry insider pointed out instances of errors that cannot be ignored.
“Recently, a drone dropped blood samples collected from patients on the metro tracks in Delhi.
"Even road accidents happen. Overall, the use of technology will help reach remote hilly areas faster with essential medicines and vaccines,” the person added.