© Catherine Lall pharma_7694873
© Catherine Lall

With the healthcare sector poised for a sea change, logistics firms are bracing for the bar to get higher with the proliferation of personalised medication.

It is expected to revolutionise the way healthcare is structured and change the logistics required, demanding higher service levels alongside pressure to reduce costs.

The use of personalised medication has been spreading at a blistering pace. According to Grand View Research, this segment is on a trajectory to enjoy compound annual growth of 11.8% between 2014 and 2022, more than double the 5.2% growth rate of the healthcare sector overall, boosting the global personalised medicine market to $2.45 trillion in 2022, the research firm predict.

“We see huge growth in this sector,” agreed Carey Roach, director of strategic customer development, pharmaceutical and healthcare at Kuehne + Nagel, Canada.

At this point, most personalised medication is aimed at cancer treatment, but pundits expect it to come into play for afflictions like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and diabetes.

And it  looks set to wreak profound change on healthcare systems. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, it will have huge ramifications for healthcare providers and patients as well as other industries.

Richard Holmes, managing director of UPS subsidiary Polar Speed Distribution, which specialises in temperature-controlled distribution, reckons that delivering high-quality healthcare directly to patients means taking medical skills out of the hospital setting. This has led his company to employ pharmacists and patient coordinators who deal with both hospitals and patients.

Another significant change is in the flow of this type of cargo, said David Bang, CEO of DHL healthcare logistics subsidiary LifeConEx.

With personalised medication often based on a patient’s own cells, moves are frequently two-way, starting and ending with the patient. Often blood samples are taken to the production facility and the resultant medication heads back to the patient after a few days, in two moves with different ambient temperature requirements, but managed by the same provider under an integrated service, he noted.

Complex, protein-based drugs are not only extremely valuable, but also less stable than bulk medication and highly sensitive to temperature fluctuation. For the most part, they are moved in a temperature band of 2-8 degrees Celsius.

For pharma logistics providers, this translates into a “zero defect, no tolerance, kind of situation”, according to Mr Bang.

Ms Roach anticipates more stringent requirements on handling and packaging as this segment unfolds. “It is definitely going to be a challenge,” she commented.

Mr Bang reckons that the existing cool chain infrastructure is adequate for the physical handling of personalised medication, as he sees no fundamental deviation from the way cargo is moved for vaccines and clinical trial shipments.

“More of a challenge is how to make it seamless,” he said.

He regards IT capabilities to allow real-time visibility as critical.

“Since there are very strict tolerance levels, the availability of information is extremely important. The speed of information flow is constantly increasing,” he said.

The amount of information involved is also expanding vastly, from reams of patient data to individual data streams from wearable devices – and the need to make information anonymous when it is shared with other people, not just than the patient or physician.

Active monitoring and tracking devices accompanying the shipment are obvious. Mr Bang notes that this has been facilitated in recent years by the growing acceptance of such devices by air carriers.

“Now there are more than 30 airlines that have approved such devices. Five years ago there were fewer than 15,” he said.

The elevated service level and requisite investment should make this a juicy segment for pharma logistics firms in terms of yields. However, the cost of the medication, along with the need for test and development work involved and pressure from insurance providers and governments to reign in spending, is forcing companies to look for ways to reduce cost.

With an estimated share of nearly 25% of pharma costs, the supply chain is a broad target for such efforts.