A growing middle class and aging population has fueled the ascent of the Asia Pacific region in the global healthcare industry. Now the pharmaceutical sector is responding by tapping more patients in the region for new drug development trials.
Asia Pacific has advantages that makes it attractive for clinical trials: access to a ready and diverse patient pool, lower recruitment costs and favorable policies. The focus of clinical trial researchers is now shifting from developed markets of Japan, Australia, South Korea, Singapore towards emerging economies like Thailand, China, the Philippines and Vietnam. Local regulatory frameworks are course-correcting to keep pace with the industry’s development.
New markets, familiar logistical challenges
In the nearly 20 countries involved in clinical trials in the region, the sites are moving away from the first and second tier cities to smaller ones and remote locations. This poses obvious logistical challenges beyond just connectivity or understanding local provincial customs and regulations. Reliable transit times are essential to ensure irreplaceable patient samples are delivered in the right condition and on time. Cold chain packing solutions and dry ice deliveries are required, plus robust contingency management to navigate unexpected obstacles. The ability for logistics companies to address these challenges, while at the same time offering cost competitiveness and delivering a high level of service to the pharma customers, is critical.
FedEx is one organization that is working to achieve this by combining its core network transportation capabilities with specific value-added elements for pharma customers. Its Clinical Express solution for time and temperature sensitive samples is designed to assist laboratories, contract research organizations (CROs) and pharma companies in the overall logistics management of their clinical trials.
Local solutions for market-specific needs
FedEx has also come up with some market-specific solutions. For example, site investigators in Japan require on-site support and adherence to stringent protocols while performing pick-ups from clinical trial logistics providers. To meet this need, it has built a team of 500 trained and certified drivers pre-approved for entry into hospitals. These drivers provide specialized white glove services from samples packing to document preparation, which are unique to Japan.
Sites in Australia require the flexibility to order packaging supplies at the time of booking, instead of ordering supplies in advance. So, FedEx set up a dedicated Customer Service desk to manage these requests and a fleet of 300 drivers to bring packaging supplies and dry ice to the sites during pick-up.
Medical trials in Japan and Korea are dominated by small to mid-sized local pharma players, who require local drug storage centers. In late 2019, FedEx Life Science Center (LSC) in Shinkiba, Japan underwent a major upgrade to serve the complex logistics needs of its pharma customers and contract research organizations (CROs). [Learn more about FedEx Clinical Trial Logistics services]. This facility now features smarter storage systems for keeping clinical trial test drugs or Investigational Medicinal Product (IMPs) in bulk rather than shipping them individually, saving more cost and clearance time. LSC is able to provide economies of scale, making it an important value-added service to customers.
Expertise and innovative technology at the core
The demand for global cold chain logistics is set to grow more than 10% CAGR over the next five years. Logistics service providers are innovating to improve reliability. Solutions like the FedEx Medpak VioC shipper box are made from high-grade Vacuum Insulated Material (VIP) fitted with Phase Change Material (PCM) that can maintain temperatures between 2 to 8°C for up to 96 hours. The VIP boxes and PCM panels are reusable, making them cost effective and environmentally friendly. In case of delays during transit, there are storage facilities that allow these packages to ‘hibernate’ temporarily while maintaining their temperature integrity. This solution can be coupled with FedEx proprietary technology SenseAware®, a near real-time monitoring device which tracks temperature during the journey of the shipment. It can record other key variables including humidity, light exposure, shock events and other environmental factors that could impact the shipments
As we enter the third decade of the century, global health issues continue to remain a hot topic. Pharmaceutical professionals have higher demands of their time as they tackle even greater challenges [Learn how to mitigate risk along healthcare supply chain]. By continuing to offer the right support and services to this industry, experienced logistics providers will be able to help in driving vital growth in the years to come.
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