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Just the tonic

With the need for fast, secure and controlled supply chains, the shipment of pharmaceuticals can be a high earner. But what do the manufacturers need, and can airlines fight off competition from both integrators and shipping lines? Ian Putzger reports

This autumn, UPS opened three healthcare distribution facilities in Hangzhou, Shanghai and Sydney, with altogether nearly 35,000m2 of healthcare-compliant distribution space.


Having eaten their lunch in the express parcel sector, the integrators are out to steal the airlines’ medical boosters next. They have clearly set their sights on pharmaceutical and healthcare traffic with dedicated equipment and infrastructure.


A year before the expansion of its healthcare logistics facility network, UPS had unveiled a special container that had been designed with input from pharmaceutical firms as well as transportation providers. The PharmaPort 360, which was developed and built exclusively for the integrator by Cool Containers, is an active ULD, which means that it uses both heating and cooling technologies to maintain temperatures between 2 and 8°C. It is equipped with built-in sensors that monitor shipment conditions and GPS location, and can transmit these data to UPS’ global ‘control towers’, where information on shipments is aggregated and then transmitted to clients.


FedEx introduced containers with active temperature control features before UPS, and TNT followed suit earlier this year. The Dutch express firm, which UPS hopes to take over, launched a temperature-controlled healthcare transportation service based on a re-usable passive container designed to maintain the required temperature inside the unit for over 120 hours without electrical power supply or dry ice.


On the airline side, there has been a move to embrace a variety of active temperature control ULDs as C-Safe’s model is gaining traction in the market, alongside Envirotainer and proprietary carrier units.


“In the past, there was resistance to using our equipment on a carrier instead of their own,” says Thomas Berger, global head of the healthcare industry vertical at Panalpina.


“The decision as to which ULD to use is on the shipper’s side,” remarks Markus Scheuber, product manager of Swiss Celsius and Swiss X-Presso of Swiss WorldCargo, who oversees the carrier’s pharmaceutical and healthcare traffic.


Swiss WorldCargo added C-Safe units to its line-up this year. At the same time, it was working on a passive temperature control offering to complement its active service under the Celsius brand. The new service has been rolled out internally to cover the carrier’s hub and several other stations, and will be officially launched during the first quarter of 2013, Scheuber says.


“We have invested in our capability for controlled room temperature (CRT). The CRT range has never been addressed with the right focus,” he adds.


Berger points to new guidelines in Europe that will require shippers to control pharmaceuticals that are moved at ambient temperatures between 15 and 25°C. “Now a lot of 15 to 25°C shipments are shipped uncontrolled. That, in an Envirotainer, would be very expensive,” he points out.


Increasingly tight regulations for temperature management and control of pharmaceuticals have been a huge factor behind the rampant trend to replace active temperature-control solutions with passive ones. “Regulation is going to be the driver of change,” comments Marco Quiros, head of business development, life sciences and healthcare at DHL Global Forwarding.


In addition, there are strong cost pressures to nudge pharma companies towards seeking less expensive solutions. Marcel Fujike, vice president of business development and product management at Kuehne + Nagel, characterises 2012 as a tough year for many companies, citing a plethora of generic drugs being released as many patents expired. “The life cycle of a drug takes so long, and the development pipeline does not look so good now. There are not a lot of blockbusters coming up,” he says.

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