Timing is Everything: Graham Cromb, UPS Healthcare


Over the last two and a half years, UPS Healthcare has been growing its services in Europe. In May 2020, for example, the company opened an air freight forwarding facility in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. In March 2021, it announced it was investing in a new state-of-the-art logistics facility in Rome, Italy and recently confirmed plans for more facilities in Germany and Poland. In October that year, it announced the European expansion of its technology-enabled express delivery service, UPS Premier. And at the same time, UPS opened its first dedicated healthcare logistics facility in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Graham Cromb is responsible for the UPS’ healthcare distribution business across Europe. Starting his UPS career in Toronto, Canada, in 2000, he has been based in Brussels, Belgium, for the past five years. Pharma Commerce caught up with Cromb recently to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic fueled the company’s expansion in Europe, and where UPS is heading in the post-COVID landscape.

Pharma Commerce: What have been the challenges and successes of UPS’ COVID vaccine distribution journey?

Graham Cromb: The challenge, of course, was knowing how important it was to deliver vaccines on time just with the highest level of quality. At UPS, certainly, we marshalled significant resources to map the 500 or so global trade lanes we used for delivery, which were more complex and longer than as an industry we were used to. At the same time, we were deploying a new technology, a new sensor technology that allowed us, really for the first time in our small package business, to understand where any package was within a 3-meter or a 10-foot radius, which is very helpful in the event that you need to re-route or re-plan vaccines. We accelerated that program and rolled it out on a global basis and it helped us to deliver at an incredibly high rate of on-time performance.

Graham Cromb

Graham Cromb

Of course, there was a useful timing element in that the business started in the months just prior to the pandemic hitting. We acted very quickly, really focusing on the cold chain infrastructure at the global level. Then, when the vaccines were ready, we were also ready from that infrastructure standpoint. I'm proud of how weve participated and supported people and patients during the pandemic. I guess the best testimony to that is that we had delivered, by December 2021, more than 1 billion vaccines at 99.9% on-time.

How did the company achieve equitable distribution to remote and rural areas?

Our customers, be they manufacturers or government, ultimately dictate where the vaccines are going to go. But our experience thus far has seen us deliver to about 110 countries across five continents. We‘ve been actively participating with organizations such as the vaccine alliance, Gavi and COVAX, etc., to deliver to underserved countries. For example, we delivered 330,000 vaccines, largely by drone, to rural clinics in Ghana late last year, and we provided to-date delivery of over a million vaccine doses in Nigeria. We also donated well over 200 of the ultra-cold freezer (ULT) units to underserved populations in Africa and Europe and elsewhere. We‘ve been very active in terms of just helping to ensure equitable distribution.

What are the broader logistics issues across Europe? How do you navigate countries with differing interpretations of regulations and compliance?

We’ve got a strong network of distribution facilities throughout Europe and are continuing to expand our active cold chain fleet. This allows us to become experts on a country-by-country, market-by-market basis, so we are in a position to be able to advise customers about the best way to organize their supply chains.

With new crises hitting Europe post-COVID, what do you see as the cold chain challenges of the next few years?

We know that cold chain is only going to grow. And it‘s going to grow at a tremendous pace year-on-year. Cold chain has been around for a long time, of course, but that's not to say it‘s easy. There are challenges, certainly, to do with the infrastructure and multiple temperature ranges. Since the inception of our UPS healthcare business just over two years ago, we‘ve been investing. We've built out our distribution centers across Europe for active cold chain delivery. And we've been building out our cold chain ground network from a distribution and warehousing standpoint, right through to final-mile delivery.

How are new technologies transforming pharmaceutical distribution?

It comes back to the complexity of cold chain in particular—how do you simplify that? Certainly, the customers that we serve are looking for that simplicity, which can start with visibility and analytics and the accessibility of data. That’s all well and good, but I think we‘re at a point now where you can bring information together in a way that's affordable to the marketplace. That just wasn‘t the case, say, 10 years ago. Because that can be done, we can offer a truly end-to-end service. A company like UPS can provide all of the data, the analytics, and the ability to leverage those analytics through technologies that are new and accessible in a way they weren‘t before. And if we look at packaging, for example, today we are more focused than ever on working with suppliers to advance packaging technologies to be more sustainable and to hold temperature over longer periods of time.

It’s interesting that you mention sustainability. There was a lot of discussion at the recent LogiPharma event about that. What else is UPS Healthcare doing to address the environmental issues surrounding pharma distribution?

We work with customers, either on an individual basis or in tailoring some of our joint programs, to deliver improved sustainability. A lot of it comes back to a blend of active versus passive temperature control. We look for continuous improvement and we measure it. Today, we measure the success of our partnerships to a large extent in terms of sustainability. By 2050 we are of course looking to be carbon-neutral; from an interim standpoint, by 2035 we're looking for 50% reduction in CO2 per package delivered from our global small package operations and by 2035, we are also aiming to be fully powered by renewable electricity. Those are just a few examples of what we‘re doing.

UPS: Continuing to expand its healthcare fleet

UPS: Continuing to expand its healthcare fleet

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