Pharmaceuticals and life science traffic

is highly sensitive, low

volume, urgent traffic that only ever goes by air when it moves over long distances? Absolutely not, says Tineke Van de Voorde – account manager shippers and forwarders (lifescience and healthcare) at the port of Antwerp. “Around 87% of such goods are shipped in containers worldwide. For us in Antwerp, it’s an important traffic, and while it may be linked with airfreight in most peoples’ minds, it is an important traffic.” While it is true that most active

pharma ingredients do go by air when they travel any distance, these are low volume and only a small part of the total picture. When it comes to finished items, the lion’s share of inter-continental movement is by sea, Van de Voorde insists. While much attention has lately

been focussed on the Covid 19 vaccine, a great many treatments of other types are moved around the world in

reefer containers,

including insulin for diabetes, the polio vaccine and blood plasma, to name a few. The major trade lanes are, currently, between the US and Canada and Europe and between India and Europe, but this could soon start to diversify if, as expected, shipping lines start to move the Covid vaccine to developing countries, possibly as early as the summer. A reflection of the importance of

pharma and life science business for Antwerp is that it is well on the way to becoming the first port in the world to operate EU GDP (Good

Distribution Practice) guidelines for maritime pharma traffic in reefer containers. “We’re not GDP-certified yet,

because GDP doesn’t yet exist for the maritime sector,” explains Van de Voorde, “but we are the first maritime port that has looked into it.”

Indeed, Antwerp has been

working hard on the guidelines for the past three years, translating them into a maritime context. It’s not just the port authority

itself, of course. A great many other players in the pharma supply chain have been involved, including terminal lines,

operators, warehouse

shipping operators,

freight forwarders and of course the shippers themselves. In this context, it’s worth noting that there are already warehouses within Antwerp port that are individually GDP-certified, currently with a total of 63,000sq m between them but likely to increase soon, and with many others in the vicinity. The port also has a total of 8,000 reefer points. The network of certified

warehouses could also come into its own for groupage operations and the forwarders would have an important part to play in this. In a maritime context, the GDP

guidelines could, for example, stipulate how long reefer containers

containing pharma

should be leſt unplugged on the quayside or the time in which they should be plugged into the onboard electrical supply once they have been loaded onto ships. They would also cover the

Pandemic pushes supply chain to its limits

Pharma transport market predictions

have lately been

pandemic propelled, says Dominic Hyde, vice president of CrēdoOn Demand at specialist packaging firm Peli BioThermal. Volumetric efficiency on

aircraſt is critical at the moment because it is such a scarce resource: “We need to ensure the best use is made of it. It is even more important to have efficient packing density of temperature controlled product.” Temperature controlled packaging manufacturers

continue to play a pivotal part in the global deployment of these approved Covid vaccines. Some have frozen and deep frozen temperature requirements, leading to a scramble to qualify existing solutions for shipping at those specific lower temperatures. Hyde says: “We have adapted

our shippers to meet those temperature requirements, as have other providers in the market. There has been an impetus for innovation to support these temperatures in volume. Suppliers stepped up to meet the

more effective complement to air transport and ensure that the service offered becomes even more high-quality and transparent. Pharma shippers, like those in any sector, are striving to make their global supply chains more sustainable and efficient, while maintaining quality standards, she adds. The move towards seafreight has been going on for some time she says, but has perhaps been moving up the agenda recently. While shippers of such critical and sensitive products are never going to make the decision to switch modes overnight, the knowledge that ports and other involved in the supply chain have GDP certification will certainly help them make that decision, she says. “It means that we speak their language and understand their

vaccine temperature requirements by adapting existing solutions and the capacity is there, so I don’t anticipate it will be an issue going forward.” Looking ahead, there will be a need to provide booster vaccines, which will create a recurring step up in the volume shipped, alongside the flu vaccines and other pharmaceutical payloads every year. He predicts, though: “There

will not be a continuous crisis; it will be a continuing trend of smaller aircraſt, with reduced air freight capacities, moving

Temperature-monitoring tends to be more accurate and effective. Reefer containers can also offer a much more stable environment into developing countries where there may be long journeys by road from the nearest sea or airport. Reefer boxes are currently used

to maintain temperatures down to -20°C or in ranges such as 2-8°C or 15-25°C. They cannot, at the moment, be used for the ultra-low -70°C temperatures required for some versions of the Covid vaccine but container manufacturers are working on that, says Van de Voorde. It’s no accident that the first port

to aim for GDP is also Belgium’s major sea gateway, she continues. Belgium is one of the pre-eminent life science hubs in Europe, not only for manufacturing but also for research and education. Nor

necessary training and expertise by people involved in the process and an educational programme would be an integral part of the GDP certification process. Van de Voorde added that

becoming GDP-certified would help make sea transport an even

Issue 3 2021 - Freight Business Journal

needs,” as she puts it. Sea transport for pharma and life

sciences has many advantages, Van de Voorde points out. For example, “temperatures in reefer containers are a lot more stable than they are in airfreight.” Boxes will maintain the required temperature even if they are unplugged for up to 24 hours – though in practice most would never be leſt so long without an external power source.

is it a coincidence that nearby Brussels airport was one of the world’s first GDP-certified airports. Van de Voorde sees the port joining a major ‘ecosystem’ of life science activity and expertise. In reality, that ‘ecosystem’

stretches all around the world. There would in

fact be little

point if Antwerp gained GDP certification but its partner ports in other parts of the world did not; GDP certification needs to cover the whole global supply chain. As soon as Antwerp has gained certification itself, it will help other gateways achieve similar status; the port’s APEC consulting arm could help in this respect. Andy Faes, regional manager

of the Healthcare vertical at forwarder Expeditors has also been involved in Antwerp’s GDP certification. He is uniquely qualified for the task, having started his career in 1999 with American Airlines and, in 2009, setting up AA Cargo Temperature Controlled Services for the region, training 3,000 colleagues towards GDP compliance. The seafreight environment

is rather different from airfreight, he explains. For a start, there is no equivalent of IATA to oversee shipping lines. Also, while the situation varies, for most shipping lines reefer traffic forms only a small proportion of their business and pharma will

form only a

small subset of that. Nevertheless, “some of the steamship lines do see a definite market”, he adds. More importantly, it is also a critical, lifesaving segment of the market that the shipping industry will need to play a part in. Just as they did at Brussels

Airport when it started the GDP certification process, Antwerp has taken a community approach, getting all the parties involved

necessary for these

shipments. There is however a displacement, whereby Covid-19 shipments, whether

vaccines, test

kits and reagents or some of the therapies which help with recuperation, like Remdesivir, are flying at almost any cost on a dwindling

resource. But

pharmaceuticals with more normal

temperature shipping requirements, like

pharmaceutical products at temperatures that

sea freight

cannot do. It really can only fly.” However, there’s not going

to be a modal shiſt from air to sea because sea cannot meet the temperature requirements

2 – 8C degrees or 15 – 25C degrees, get displaced and in that situation, when the air freight rates get so high, sea freight would normally be a solution. However with all of the sea freight challenges, coupled with


round the table and getting them to agree on standards. Indeed, one of the first actions that Andy Faes took was to witness the journey of a typical container across the port. “In airfreight, the tarmac is the

most risky area for a pharma shipment; the equivalent in seafreight is the quayside.” There are some differences,

though. Most reefer shipping containers need to be plugged in to an external power source to work; temperature-controlled airfreight containers are autonomous, with their own on-board power. And of course, most airfreight journeys are measured in hours, not weeks. Like airfreight, a range of active

and passive solutions such as blankets and liners are available to keep cargo at the correct temperature. GDP certification will be a

powerful marketing tool for Antwerp, says Faes, but he would be delighted if other ports were able to follow suit and it became an industry standard. “Ultimately, the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, however great a job we may do in Antwerp,” he comments. The process will inevitably take

time, but he hopes that other ports too will see the benefits of GDP certification. Certification is also particularly

pertinent because the European Union will, on 26 May, extend GDP to cover medical devices as well as pharmaceuticals. While such goods will not normally need temperature control, there are other important parameters such as container cleanliness that would be covered. Extension of the guidelines as originally scheduled to take place last year but had to be postponed, ironically, because of the Covid crisis.

the fact that rates have also doubled, while there has been some displacement it is not as much as pharma companies would have liked, and this has kept pushing air freight prices up to around $23 a kilo. The sea freight situation will

improve in the first six months of 2021 but aircraſt will still be full of Covid-19-related products. This year will see the industry

learning to operate in the new normal. Hyde concludes: “Next year we might start to see some improvements but I think this year is about adjusting our planning, our capacities and our operations around this spike in demand and the gradually improving capacity picture.”

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28