Clinical trials are a critical component of the life sciences and healthcare sector and are fundamental to ensuring better health outcomes for patients. It is therefore no surprise that significant investment is made in clinical logistics every year by pharmaceutical companies.
However, like many other global markets, the pharmaceutical industry has faced a combination of macro trends, post-pandemic pressures, and industry-specific developments that have created challenges for supply chain teams, and increased the focus on improved efficiency, optimization and visibility across clinical trials.
DHL Supply Chain provides solutions for the leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies on end-to-end clinical logistics solutions. This gives the company a truly unique perspective on the pressures facing the industry across the globe, and the ability to leverage its worldwide network of experts and facilities to deliver sustainable solutions that optimize and improve the patient centric clinical supply chains, increase reach and consolidate the entire network under a single point of contact.
Reaching and retaining patients
Clinical trials require long and rigorous processes where patient participation is crucial to success. This requires an end-to-end logistics partner who is focused on reaching the most appropriate patients, and then ensures that those patients don’t drop out of their trials.
Finding the right patients is often a challenge in itself, so working with a partner with a global network is one of the best ways of combining local, in-market knowledge and on-the-ground support to increase patient retention, with the ability to deliver successfully first time, and for the duration of the trial.
Once patients are enrolled in a Clinical Trial, it’s then important to ensure they don’t drop out. Statistics show that globally around 30% of patients enrolled in pharmaceutical trials leave before completion, which can have a significant impact on the launch of a product, and on improving patient outcomes.1
DHL Supply Chain’s experience shows that one of the main reasons for this is the challenge posed by the location of the patient, with many living outside of urban areas or without easy access to an investigator’s site. Similarly, many patients enrolled in trials may have mobility restrictions, general poor health, or even lack the financial means to travel regularly to take part in the trials, making it even harder to retain them in the trial.
In this case, a partner that can offer a ‘Direct to Patient’ solution can be a key enabler of success. The need to reach patients directly in their home, no matter where they are in the world, became an even greater focus during the pandemic, but has been critical in helping to minimize drop out, and ultimately in seeing companies get their products to market more quickly.
Improving patient diversity
Patient diversity in clinical trials is a known challenge, and one that is critical to address if the industry as a whole is to improve the outcomes for patients across population subgroups and diverse geographies. Tackling it will be a complex task, requiring industry, governments, regulators and clinicians to work together, but logistics has a role to play.
Access to trials is one of the key barriers to entry, and many potential patients are unable to take part in suitable trials because their nearest hospital, or the investigator’s site, may be miles away from their homes. Likewise, they may not be able to take time away from their childcare responsibilities, or may not be entitled to take sick leave. In this case a ‘Direct to Patient’ offer becomes not just convenient but critical in ensuring that the most appropriate patients are able to take part, and that the safety and efficacy of treatments can be tested across the broadest possible range of populations.
The pharmaceutical industry has not been immune from the macro trends of increasing costs and tightening budgets, making the focus on cost efficiency keener than ever. At the same time, there has been a shift within the industry to elevate logistics into a more specialized and professional function, recognizing the role that it can have in driving improvements across the board.
One area of focus for improvement has been wastage; in an industry where wastage levels can be very high this is no surprise. Data analysis is a key tool for teams as they seek to reduce waste, so there is huge benefit in working with a provider with the ability to analyze data on a global and local level. Whether that’s reducing product duplications, or using data analysis to help forecast trends and improve performance, data has the power to unlock greater efficiencies and improve patient outcomes. In DHL’s case, integrating its data analysis capabilities into its customers’ Enterprise Resource Planning software, ensures complete visibility of clinical trials and helps companies adjust or redirect as needed to get their product to market more efficiently.
Similarly, working with a specialized and end-to-end logistics partner with operations in multiple regions can streamline the clinical logistics process by simultaneously removing redundant or unnecessary links in the supply chain, and allowing those with expertise to focus on the areas in which they are truly experts.
Focusing on sustainability
Sustainability continues to be a core focus for every sector, and although the pharmaceutical industry and its temperature control requirements have traditionally been a more challenging environment, there are plenty of advances and improvements to be made. For example, one particular customer has been able to replace single-use packaging with temperature-controlled, reusable closed-loop packaging in several of regions within their network, achieving more than 97% scores on return rates.
Customers working with DHL Supply Chain can also benefit from its group-wide focus on sustainability in the broadest sense. Last year the DPDHL Group announced a €7 billion investment in sustainability overall, and DHL Supply Chain has its own target to reach zero logistics-related emissions by 2050.
Providing a single point of contact
Finally, streamlining operations so that global networks run through a single point of contact can be game-changing for pharmaceutical businesses, and the source of some of the biggest cost efficiencies. In just one example, access to DHL Supply Chain's Clinical Services Centre has delivered cost savings of 40% to a customer, by consolidating their network into one provider. But it’s not just about cost savings, as customers can access the breadth and depth of the DHL business. For example, the company has over 200 pharmacists within the clinical logistics team, positioned to combine their expertise with the knowledge of colleagues in divisions across the DPDHL group, to deliver industry-leading ideas in everything from planning to transport.
At the same time, the company’s clinical logistics solution provides a consistent, globally standardized operational approach with the flexibility to cater to local requirements and regulations. DHL focuses on upskilling colleagues regionally with global knowledge, rather than consolidating control in global management, and our customers can access this diverse team through one key contact.
Leveraging global logistics expertise for improved patient outcomes
While every clinical trial is unique, the process behind them can be standardized, and so there are great benefits to be gained by leveraging global expertise on a local level. A provider like DHL Supply Chain, with a truly unique blend of expertise, and a plug and play solution, enables pharmaceutical companies to scale up, or down, as required and removes the logistical concerns from their day to day, freeing them up to focus entirely on the ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes across the globe.
Author: Fernanda Teles, Head of Global Clinical Operations, DHL Supply Chain
1. 5 Ways that decentralized clinical trial approaches can reduce study costs, Thread (Aug 2021).