- UPS is expanding its healthcare division, adding new sites or building out existing facilities in California, Hungary, Shanghai, the U.K. and at the "UPS Worldport" in Kentucky, the company said Wednesday.
- The carrier will add more Good Manufacturing Practice-compliant distribution space in California and in Shanghai, while new freezer storage in Kentucky will provide space for holding vaccines and biopharmaceuticals.
- "About a month ago, we made the decision to pivot quickly to ... vaccines and treatments," Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Healthcare, said in an interview with Supply Chain Dive.
When Wheeler started as the head of UPS' healthcare division in December, responding to a infectious disease pandemic was not high on the company's agenda. But priorities quickly changed.
By early February, UPS started to get its "first clue" of how its mission was going to change. Only a few weeks later, Wheeler said his time was consumed by Zoom calls connecting with people in Washington, healthcare laboratories, test kit companies and charter flights.
"It hasn't really stopped since then," Wheeler said.
Last month, the federal government announced "Operation Warp Speed," which aims to have "substantial quantities of a safe and effective vaccine available for Americans by January 2021." Achieving such an aggressive goal requires not only unprecedented speed from drug developers, but also an extensive network of manufacturing facilities and supply chain partners to ensure widespread distribution can take place.
UPS, one of the world's largest package delivery companies, has therefore become a key partner for coronavirus vaccine makers. According to Wheeler, the company is working with most of the bigger players in coronavirus vaccine and drug development.
The supply chain for vaccines includes UPS helping manufacturers move active ingredient from supplier locations to factories where the drug substance is placed in vials. The vials are then packaged and shipped to dosing sites around the country.
Along the way, many of the vaccines will need to be kept at sub-frozen conditions as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius, according to Wheeler.
UPS subsidiary Marken, meanwhile, has been providing drug companies with supply chain services to help them run clinical trials. The pandemic, though, has forced Marken to solve challenges like getting drugs to patients' homes, since many clinic sites have closed.
Before the pandemic took hold, UPS' Healthcare and Life Sciences unit was just a few months old and focused mostly on its UPS Premier product, the clinical work done at Marken and services built on a quality system similar to what might be found at a large pharma such as Novartis or Merck & Co.
"That was our plan," Wheeler said. "Then all this happened. We had to kind of step back and respond every single day to another phone call from another governor or city mayor or hospital system looking for [personal protective equipment], looking for test kits, help connecting laboratories with test kit companies."