The healthcare sector is one of the core industries that the logistics company Fiege specialises in, with the pharma segment making up a crucial part. By its own account, Fiege is also Germany’s largest provider of healthcare logistics, a segment that focuses on supplying hospitals. DVZ spoke about the latest developments with Dirk Berlemann, head of the Healthcare business unit.
DVZ: Mr Berlemann, how has Fiege’s business with pharmaceutical products evolved these past months?
Dirk Berlemann: We’re seeing something of a downward trend. Especially over-the-counter medicines are not as much in demand as they usually are. Pharmacists are also saying this.
What are the reasons for this?
One explanation could be that the hygiene measures initiated by the corona pandemic are proving effective and that clearly smaller numbers of the virus are being transmitted. The typical waves of influenza or the common cold that we tend to experience in the months of March and April did not happen. Also, hospital operators had to free capacities for corona patients and because of this, elective, i.e. foreseeable surgeries were postponed. Consequently, fewer medicines were prescribed and therefore consumed.
What are your expectations for the second half of 2020, and for 2021?
Hospitals are now allowed to perform scheduled surgeries again. The German government has lowered the minimum number of ICU beds to be reserved for corona patients to 30 per cent. Hospitals can therefore gradually return to normal, which in turn means that plenty of medical supplies are being consumed again. Provided that there is no second wave, this trend will continue in the weeks to come.
How will the corona crisis impact pharmaceutical logistics?
The past months have clearly shown us that Europe and USA are reliant on China and India for the production of medicines. Almost 100 per cent of the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients, or APIs are produced in Asia. They are then finished in Europe and USA, meaning the different agents are mixed into, for example, pills. The supply chain for certain active ingredients – like those needed to produce antibiotics – was already disrupted before we were hit by the corona pandemic. This creates bottlenecks which must be avoided. We therefore assume that the production of APIs will shift to different parts of the planet in the long run.
Other logistics providers are currently reporting a great demand for storage space. Can you confirm this?
The trend in the pharmaceutical industry is clearly leaning towards building up larger stocks. We have been noticing a growing demand for storage capacities for medicinal products. It is beginning to emerge that additional cooled storage space offering a temperature range of between 2° and 8°C is in demand especially for medicinal products in Germany and Europe – on the one hand because of the changed supplied chains in the production of medicines and on the other because of the general trend towards biopharmaceuticals. Almost all new innovative medicines are made of biomaterial which must always be stored in a cooled environment.
Does Fiege possibly have plans for a new location?
For 2021, a new multi-user location is expected to launch near Cologne. This is where we are creating new capacities to store and plan for the shipment of pharma products. We currently already run eight healthcare-only logistics centres across Germany.