“Like raw eggs”

Transporting pharmaceuticals is one of the supreme disciplines in logistics. Silke Reinhardt, Global Quality Manager Healthcare, explains why the task is becoming ever more complex – and how DB Schenker is strengthening supply chains through their “GDP Compliance” program

Silke Reinhardt was appointed Global Quality Manager Healthcare – Air, Ocean, Land in February 2017. What the native Berliner appreciates about “her” industry is the fact that constant changes are always presenting new challenges. Photo: private
Silke Reinhardt was appointed Global Quality Manager Healthcare – Air, Ocean, Land in February 2017. What the native Berliner appreciates about “her” industry is the fact that constant changes are always presenting new challenges. Photo: private

Ms. Reinhardt, as the goal of healthcare and pharmaceutical logistics is to improve and protect people’s health, it needs to be extremely reliable. What does that mean in concrete terms?

For us, the be-all and end-all is to guarantee optimal quality in terms of ensuring the purity, efficacy, safety, strength and identity of pharmaceutical products during freight. For example: if the efficacy of a product were to fall below 100 percent as a result of being transported, possibly because the ambient temperature en route was incorrect, it could have serious consequences for patient safety. What is more, consignments of ampoules can break easily, blood products are highly perishable and dialysis filters must be kept sterile. Vaccines, on the other hand, must be treated like raw eggs as they are very sensitive to frost because they sometimes contain living organisms. When handling active pharmaceutical ingredients, the core component in medicines, you have to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination. In short: there’s a lot to take into account! And we haven’t even touched on the actual financial value of the consignments we transport. A single pallet can easily be worth one million euros.

The “Good Distribution Practices” (GDP) based on the World Health Organization WHO are designed to ensure everything runs smoothly during transport. What do these guidelines regulate?

They define how storage facilities need to be equipped or which qualified transport units are most suitable. The GDP specifies these and many other processes along the supply chain and also determines the most appropriate control mechanisms. Based on this overriding set of rules, other countries like the USA, Canada and Singapore as well as the EU have developed their own guidelines. Another key objective in all of these rules and regulations is to ensure the aforementioned “identity” of pharmaceuticals, which means preventing counterfeit products from penetrating the distribution chain. These counterfeit products can be substandard medicines that have been produced or purchased cheaply and then resold at a higher price; but they also include medicines containing adulterated substances that could potentially pose a lethal hazard to the end product. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals have long since made their way to the markets in industrialized countries.


How could that happen?

The industry’s global supply chains are widely fragmented and extremely complex, with a host of suppliers and intermediaries. This makes it easier for criminals, who, on top of everything else, have become more professional over the past years. And online trading facilitates their actions. There have been counterfeit pharmaceuticals circulating which contained sugar instead of the approved active substances. Lately, we have increasingly seen this even in medicines used to treat serious diseases.


Regulations like the GDP form the binding principles governing your work and that of your pharmaceutical colleagues at DB Schenker. What is set to change by introducing the “GDP Compliance” program?

Pharmaceuticals and healthcare are a significant growth market. The population is aging, and more and more people are gaining access to healthcare. We want to play a leading role in this trend. But we can only do so if we focus even more strongly than before on our customers and the needs of the market. Ultimately, it means complying with the rising demands being placed in the supply chains. That is why we launched the global program “GDP Compliance.” The aim is to adopt unified standards within DB Schenker’s global network with regard to handling pharmaceutical and healthcare products. At the same time, we want to achieve steady advancements in global quality management across all products. This has resulted in myself and my colleagues from Vertical Market Healthcare working closely with our colleagues in the individual transport segments and in contract logistics. Currently, we’re investing in a global training program for our airfreight colleagues. All communications, whether they be internal or with regard to the customer, as well as all training courses for our co-workers are disseminated and provided on a worldwide scale.


Whether it is enforced by the authorities or you do so of your own accord: do these strict regulations not at some point run the risk of adversely affecting the handling of the product?

Well, it’s true that the regulations around the world are becoming more complex, and our challenge is to tackle that. And yet the answer to your question is and remains very simple: the risk to the patient, particularly through counterfeit medicines, is always going to weigh more heavily than the risk of any possible over-regulation. That is why every step we take to make our supply chains stronger and thus increase the safety of the patients is a step in the right direction.


For more information on DB Schenker’s solutions for the healthcare and pharma industry please click here!

Handling deluxe: anyone at DB Schenker whose job involves medicines or medical devices knows exactly what is required. That goes for this employee at the pharma warehouse in the Italian city of Milan and for the decision-makers in Vertical Market Healthcare

Photo: Chris Lawrence



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