The world of clinical trial materials (CTMs) management, a subset of pharma industry logistics, is going to look a little different now, as UPS Healthcare Logistics has announced the acquisition, for an unspecified price, of Marken, one of the leading clinical trial logistics providers. The action was preceded by UPS’ announcement, earlier in the year, that it was expanding its clinical trial services. And before that, Big Three wholesaler AmerisourceBergen had made an unexpected acquisition of Marken’s archrival, World Courier, for $520 million in 2012. Bringing the clinical trials logistics business under the umbrella of major drug distributors (which both UPS and AmerisourceBergen are) is being propelled both by the healthy expansion of clinical research in new therapies, and by the trend toward specialty pharmaceuticals that require high-touch services that are second nature to the courier-based services of World Courier, Marken and a few others.
“Our earlier announcement of expanded clinical-trial services involved broader capabilities in more geographies of the world, more dedicated control towers, and services such as re-icing cold-chain deliveries,” notes John Menna, VP of global strategy at UPS Healthcare Logistics. “Now, this acquisition allows us to build on those services.”
Wes Wheeler, president of Marken, notes that CTM management for his company encompasses some 45,000 investigator sites, hundreds of drug-development companies, and around 40 central labs around the world where, typically, biologic specimens are delivered. “The central labs generally subdivide their shipments between standard delivery processes and specialty ones, and the latter are our sweet spot. And as the industry moves toward cellular and gene-based therapies, which involve sterile solutions, temperature-controlled delivery, and the need for precise chain-of-custody practices, this business is only going to grow.”
Wheeler will continue to lead the Marken business, which will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of UPS.
Clinical to commercial
To some degree, the moves by AmerisourceBergen and now UPS have anticipated two trends in pharma logistics: the trend toward specialty pharmaceuticals, which generally require more specialized services than conventional therapies, and the growing emphasis on cellular therapies which are just beginning to enter commercialization. AmerisourceBergen and World Courier announced an effort to make deliveries of commercial specialty products from a Melbourne, Australia, depot a year ago, and they are now expanding this capability to other World Courier depots. Marken, which has styled itself as “the only patient-centric supply chain organization 100% dedicated” to life sciences, with “the leading position for direct to patient services,” now has the potential to expand on commercial activity.