Pharmaniaga explores the use of drones for medical delivery


PHARMANIAGA Bhd is exploring the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones for pharmaceutical-grade medical delivery.

The group said it aims to enhance its logistics capabilities and make healthcare services more accessible, especially to remote areas without compromising on the safety, integrity and quality of the medicines.

Pharmaniaga plans to reduce delivery time and cost as well as increase supply chain efficiencies as drone delivery is estimated to be five times more efficient than conventional delivery methods that require boats and off-road vehicles to deliver medicines to remotely located government hospitals and clinics.

It noted that the first phase of the proof of concept (POC) of this project, code-named Project Eagle, had successfully taken place recently in Pulau Pangkor, Perak which involved a distance of 4.2km from a jetty in Manjung to Klinik Kesihatan Pangkor, with approximately 3kg of medicines delivered for emergency medical treatment.

The POC was the first longest-distance drone medical delivery of pharmaceutical products over water in Malaysia, led by a female pilot.

Pharmaniaga group MD Datuk Zulkarnain Md Eusope (picture) said Project Eagle will bring the group one step closer to rolling out a large-scale programme for the delivery of vital medicines via drones.

He added that a normal mode of delivery using a ferry from the jetty in Manjung to the clinic at Pulau Pangkor will take approximately 30 minutes, as opposed to only 3.5 minutes when using the drone as demonstrated.

“Despite the unfavourable weather, as it was drizzling with poor visibility due to 100% cloud cover, Project Eagle in Pulau Pangkor was carried out successfully.

“The drone technology is advanced in terms of performance and cost-effectiveness compared to traditional logistics, especially when delivering products to geographically-challenging locations,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Additionally, Zulkarnain noted that the use of drones has high potential to be applied for emergency and rapid response in locations that are geographically challenging.

He added that even in narrow and limited landing spaces, the drones managed to land precisely using the quick response code, and this is truly a cutting-edge technology and a new era of transporting medicines.

Zulkarnain admitted there are certain challenges that might limit the group from achieving its full objectives with drones.

However, he said Pharmaniaga believes that it can overcome the challenges, as the drone technology will evolve rapidly with better capabilities and with strong support from the regulators and authorities.

According to Zulkarnain, Project Eagle will continue with several more stages at different locations and terrains, including the remote areas in Sabah and Sarawak.

He added that findings from the project will be documented and submitted to the relevant ministries and government agencies.

Supporting Project Eagle are the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre, Technology Park Malaysia, Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia, Boustead Holdings Bhd and Meraque Services Sdn Bhd.

Since last year, the government has adopted drone technology as a delivery method for medical products such as blood samples and microbiological specimens.

Other than that, it is used in agricultural industries for pesticide spraying despite its limitation in effectiveness for weather conditions such as unpredictable speed and direction of winds.

The usage of drone’s technology in large scale misting of areas with disinfectants, especially outdoor places is recently used by a few countries, in battling Covid-19.

Malaysia is poised to be the frontrunner in the drone technology industry, which is expected to generate US$127 billion (RM517 billion) by 2025.

The global market size specific to drone package delivery was US$642.4 million in 2019, and is projected to reach US$7.4 billion in 2027.