UPS steps into clinical trial materials management

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - September/October 2016

Emphasis is on cold chain capabilities, dedicated global network

A “significant global expansion” of logistics services for clinical trial materials (CTMs) has been announced by UPS Healthcare Logistics. The company says that its existing healthcare logistics network—one of the world’s largest—now includes “easy-to-use shipping system for clinical investigator sites; an expansion of the healthcare control tower network, package intercept and re-icing capabilities; and upgraded operations to move temperature-sensitive biological specimens in and out of more than 60 countries more efficiently.”

Clients will be able to make use of a variety of UPS branded services, including: UPS Temperature True, UPS Proactive Response, UPS WorldShip, UPS Quantum View and other portfolios that leverage expertise in packaging, labeling, monitoring, and storage capabilities. The company’s network includes over 50 dedicated distribution centers, most of which handle high volumes of commercial deliveries currently.

The CTM market is evolving as new therapies—especially those involving live tissues and stem cells—become a hot area for pharma R&D and commercialization. Clinical trial managers have traditionally depended on express courier services for deliveries, but as the volumes of materials have mounted, that becomes a more significant component of trial budgets. Global UPS rivals like DHL and FedEx have also been active players in the CTM market. This evolving market dynamic was also the justification for AmerisourceBergen’s acquisition of World Courier in 2012; World Courier is now stepping more deeply into commercial deliveries alongside its CTM work.

There are two key challenges for commercial distributors and freight forwarders in the CTM market: the higher preponderance of cryogenic shipments (as compared to the 2-8°C refrigerated temperature regime for most biotech products and vaccines); and the need to be able to deliver to investigator sites—even to individual patients’ homes—as compared to warehouse-to-stockroom deliveries to pharmacies or hospitals. On the flip side, the large commercial distributors have the advantage of a fully integrated network; in this case, a UPS truck picking up a shipment, passing it to a UPS distribution center, onto UPS planes and then making final deliveries with UPS employees. (It should be noted, though, that the express delivery companies like Marken and QuickSTAT have their own integrated services; and that the global freight forwarders make regular use of third parties.)

“Our cost-effective portfolio streamlines logistics for clinical trials into one global network across sometimes remote, hard-to-reach locations,” said Habib N’Konou, UPS senior operations director for clinical trials, in a statement. “With drug research taking years at a cost in the billions, a product loss or damage, including falling out of temperature range, could mean a costly setback. Our recent improvements to our network can help reduce product loss or damage.”

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