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Pharma focus

Transporting pharmaceuticals is big business – and air cargo operators are determined to secure more contracts, as Helen Massy-Beresford finds out

Air cargo operators are sounding a positive note about demand for temperature-sensitive drugs, vaccines and life sciences products, a sign that their efforts to convince shippers to move these products by air are paying off.


For IAG Cargo, demand for transporting pharmaceuticals and life science products is buoyant. “They have continued to perform as strongly as they have in the previous two to three years and that’s down to what’s driving the market overall,” says Alan Dorling, Global Head – Pharmaceuticals & Life Sciences. 


That is at least partly due to manufacturing trends in the $1 trillion global pharmaceutical business, with manufacturers increasingly developing their products in one location, before moving on to another plant for packaging and to another for labelling, for example. “That’s happening on a global basis now, so where we used to see regional manufacturing service home markets and regional markets it's now a global market by individual product line. That's very good for air freight.”


This growing demand is not just being driven by industry trends, but by sociological ones too, says Dorling: “This is a market sector that has been driven by growth of health care overall. People are living longer. The reason they are living longer is because we have developed better and more effective medications, so it's a self-fulfilling growth cycle.”


Westernised diets are driving Type 2 diabetes, a disease that can be managed or even reversed with lifestyle changes, Dorling says: “Insulin is one of the biggest air freight products for the time- and temperature-controlled market, right across the globe.” 


New immunotherapies and other drugs that, unlike traditional solid dose tablets, are highly sensitive to external factors such as humidity, light and shock are stimulating demand for air freight. Widespread vaccination programmes in developing countries and continued growth in the clinical trial market are also contributing to a fairly buoyant sector, Dorling continues.


While IAG Cargo is enjoying growth above market rates, the airline has noticed some particular hotspots, with a rise in Central and South American production driving flows.  


“We begin to see Latin America exporting as well. That's good for IAG in that we have extremely strong presence across our LatAm network via Madrid, which is linked to London,” Dorling says.


Part of this growth in demand for pharmaceuticals is linked to the rise of the middle class in China. That means more people being able to afford imported medicines, but also more people adopting a westernised diet, which takes its toll on health with diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.


Mark Whitehead, Chief Executive Officer of Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl), says Hong Kong’s largest independent cargo handler has also seen a rise in demand for pharmaceuticals transportation: “From a low base four or five years ago, pharma is now a valuable and growing revenue stream for our customer carriers.” >>

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