Pharmalogistics – How Drugs Arrive Safely

In times of Corona, pharmaceutical logistics companies show impressive performance. The trends run towards more storage capacity and greater transport distances. In both cases, quality requirements are high. We spoke to the experts.

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, a functioning pharmaceutical logistics is more important than ever. Photo: Shutterstock - noppawan09

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, a functioning pharmaceutical logistics is more important than ever. Photo: Shutterstock – noppawan09

Corona has shaken up the structures and processes in pharmaceutical logistics. “Due to the pandemic, almost all international shipments have collapsed,” reports Steven Reinhold, Managing Director (CFO) of Berlin-based Unitax-Pharmalogistik. Around 65 percent of all pharmaceuticals handled by the pharmaceutical logistics company with four locations in Germany are destined for third countries outside the European Union. National shipments, on the other hand, have experienced an upswing. For the supply of clinics, wholesalers, and pharmacies alone, an increase of 35 percent has been recorded. “Politics and industry have an interest in becoming less dependent on disruptions in global supply chains,” explains Reinhold. In future, the wholesale and foreign trade merchant believes it’s possible that the industry will no longer order from a manufacturer in the Far East four times a year, but only once. In this case, the logistics providers will be called upon to provide the necessary storage capacity.

Requirements according to “Good Distribution Practice” (GDP)

At Unitax, national shipping has picked up in the crisis. Photo: Unitax

At Unitax, national shipping has picked up in the crisis. Photo: Unitax

Unitax is ideally positioned for such challenges. The supply chain partner manages around 40,000 pallets for its pharmaceutical customers. The bar for hygiene requirements is set extremely high in pharmaceutical warehouses. Above all else, Unitax has invested in building structure – thanks to excellent insulation values, temperatures in summer can be kept between 15 and 25 degrees without difficulty. Standard features include permanent temperature monitoring and an alarm system that’s activated in the event of changes. “For us, quality is our top priority,” Reinhold knows. Which is why Unitax relies on the same certifications its pharmaceutical customers have. One of these is the EU guideline “Good Distribution Practice” (GDP), which was introduced in 2013 and sets guidelines for the distribution practice of human pharmaceuticals. Among other things, it states that pharmaceutical logistics providers must ensure temperature and humidity control in the warehouse and train warehouse staff to meet requirements for handling pharmaceuticals.

GDP standards in the transport sector

Relevant rules also apply to road transport of pharmaceuticals. “Forwarding agents and transport companies must prove that refrigerated vehicles, equipment, and driver training comply with GDP,” says Thomas Schleife, Managing Director of Transco Berlin Brandenburg, a forwarding company founded in Großbeeren in 2010. The logistics company covers a transport volume of up to 66 pallets for its international clientele from eight countries. The highly specialized vehicles are on the road in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Transco and its partners are also on the road in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, as well as Mongolia and China.

Creative solutions put into practice

Transco drives for its international clients as far as Central Asia. Photo: Transco

Transco drives for its international clients as far as Central Asia. Photo: Transco

“Quality management is the be-all and end-all of pharmaceutical logistics. We regularly audit our subcontractors at their locations,” reports Schleife. At Transco, a specially employed pharmacist is responsible for defining and evaluating quality standards. If an incident occurs during a pharmaceutical transport, Schleife relies on partners and drivers to make the right decisions in coordination with Transco. For example, what would you do if a truck’s refrigeration unit broke down at temperatures above 40 degrees? Schleife experienced this scenario last year in Turkmenistan. The solution was as simple as it was creative: the truck was quickly taken to a car wash and continuously cooled with cold water for a day until the repair service arrived.

Demand for transport capacity

It’s not just in times of Corona, however, that supply chain security is the central task for pharmaceutical logistics providers. It’s quite possible that Europe will set quotas for stockpiling pharmaceutical products in the future. If, for example, a vaccine against Covid 19 finally existed, it would have to be distributed, stored, and delivered. This would result in a higher demand for transport capacity, which might have to be met by transport and logistics companies from outside the industry. At the same time, however, meeting legal requirements in the field of pharmaceutical logistics would require a real effort. Companies are supported by DEKRA Certification, for example, which offers certification in accordance with Good Distribution Practice (GDP). Auditing enables logistics companies to prove and certify the quality of their services in the supply chain.

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