AmerisourceBergen will acquire World Courier for its clinical and specialty logistics services

While UPS and and FedEx apparently passed on the acquisition, ABC will be expanding its footprint in clinical logistics, and its commercial distribution services globally

In a move that caught most analysts by surprise, AmerisourceBergen Corp. has signed a definitive agreement to acquire World Courier, for $520 million. Privately held World Courier (New Hyde Park, NY) has been on the block for several months; according to press reports, at one time UPS, which has a substantial healthcare logistics business, was looking at it; then FedEx, which has organized a HealthCare Solutions business unit in the past year, kicked the tires as well. But the buyer wound up being the US #3 wholesaler-distributor.

"The addition of World Courier’s unique capabilities and expertise to our existing commercialization services further strengthens our offerings to global pharmaceutical manufacturers, and provides an established platform for the introduction of our specialty services outside North America," said ABC CEO Steve Collis. "We are very excited to become an integral part of the largest specialty distribution and services provider in the world," said World Courier president, Wayne Heyland.

For its money, ABC is buying an organization with annual sales of around $500 million, 13 GMP-compliant storage depots around the world, 137 offices, and 2,500 employees in 52 countries. (World Courier also has some business in express delivery for automotive, oil and gas, and high tech industries, but it's doubtful that ABC is now getting into the auto-supply business.)

Give Collis credit for taking an action that is going to shake up many traditional arrangements in the biopharma services space; it’s intriguing to speculate how this will all play out. The major part of World Courier’s business is in clinical trial logistics, handling both outward movement of test drugs, and backward movement of medical samples and specimens. With the right mix of service components, ABC could wind up being a contract research organization (CRO). At the same time, ABC Specialty Group is a leading provider of specialty pharmaceuticals in the US (and the clear leader in oncology drug distribution), while World Courier will seek to build up its commercial distribution activities. On the commercial side, the acquisition could streamline the process of distributing specialty pharmaceuticals globally—well beyond ABC’s existing international business in Canada and the UK.