Also at its global life sciences meeting (see related item), another division of DHL—DHL Express—talked up its Medical Express Service. (Generally speaking, DHL Global Forwarding handles large, bulk shipments, while DHL Express is small-package, air-express service.) Medical Express started as a way to ensure emergency shipments could move rapidly through DHL Express’ network of receiving and delivery stations, for delivery to hospitals and clinics. Now, the company is taking on shipments of clinical trial materials (CTMs), both outbound to research centers and inbound to central labs where testing and analysis occur during a clinical trial. Shipping costs can be reduced by two-thirds or more, says DHL.
Much of this service is currently handled by express courier companies, including World Courier, Marken and others. The DHL action puts its network of consolidating and transporting shipments in direct competition with the courier-based services offered by the others. According to National Institutes of Health data, about 6,500 new trials are started each year, and according to Pharmaceutical Commerce’s BioPharma Cold Chain Sourcebook, the CTM logistics business is worth $2.7 billion in 2013.
Medical Express involves specially labeled packages (which tend to be small parcels) that can move through the DHL Express network under specified temperature conditions, and with time-definite delivery dates, including multiple times of day. Medical Express pick-up and delivery is available in 32 countries currently; an additional 35 countries can handle delivery only. Plans are in place to expand both numbers. The challenge for DHL Express will be to convince research organizations, accustomed to the individualized attention of courier services, to put trust in the network-based services of the global logistics company.