An intensifying of partnerships has also been taking place on the pharma logistics side of the business, although that was always there to some extent. Stefan Winckelmann, director for Pharma & Health Care at Geodis, says: “The ABC (AirBridgeCargo) grounding took a lot of capacity out of the market, especially to Asia, and ABC was a pharma premium carrier. So that really hit the market. But you always find ways around things – this is what we as forwarders do, with the pharmaceutical companies and the carriers and the ground handlers and the container providers. We design different ways that the pharmaceutical goods will be delivered in the right time, in the right place, but also in the right condition.”
This was a key reason Geodis recently acquired trans-o-flex – “a specialist in delivering the last mile” operating a leading European network for temperature-controlled pharmaceutical goods and express premium delivery, with a particularly strong network in Germany and Austria.
“So, we have an end-to-end capability, and that is really a game changer for us,” Winckelmann says.
Because product integrity is so crucial to their business, “pharmaceutical companies are quite traditional”, Winckelmann notes. “To change a lane or a provider takes them three to six months. Quality is mandatory. So, we invested heavily in the education of our people. We trained 1,500 people, in operations, in sales, in finance, and management; we invested in the infrastructure of having CEIV certification in 24 branches in the world. This is a huge investment and a prerequisite to deal with pharmaceutical companies.”
Changing pharma markets
He adds: “Having said that, Pharma is always a solution-designed supply chain.”
And there has been a change in the pharma business in recent years, “from well known, traditional, chemically synthesised medication, into biotech-produced medication that has much more temperature sensitivity; they need to be shipped cooled or ambient.”
Pharmaceutical companies, together with the freight forwarder, “need to mitigate the risk of sending something from A to B. So, we do lane-by-lane route risk assessments with our customers, and that is very demanding. We’ve got thick books with the SOPs, so that everybody knows exactly what to do, who to call when there’s an exception.
“But Pharma is still one of the most innovative industries. So, the design will keep on going. Covid was there; and now we see different trends. So, we have to be flexible, redesigning supply chains”