KLU graduate Julia Döring (M.Sc. Global Logistics & SCM, Class of 2021) landed herself a special job during the pandemic. She is now helping to organize transportation for medical studies worldwide at a global supply chain logistics provider, Marken. What are the challenges of this special kind of transport, and what has she learned so far?
What part does Marken currently play in the development of Covid-19 vaccines? What is your task?
Julia Döring: In short, Marken is a wholly owned subsidiary of UPS and is a critical part of UPS Healthcare. We are a full-service supply chain partner with an enhanced flexible global network to meet clinical vaccine distribution needs. This means that pharmaceutical companies come to us and say that they would like to test a vaccine with patients in places like the USA, Spain, South Africa, or South America. We then gather all the necessary information about the study from them. They give us an itemized list, e.g.: on this day, the study participants receive the vaccine. On the second day, they have to give a blood sample. After two weeks, they have to give another blood sample. They tell us exactly which samples there are and what has to be transported. Then we look at where exactly they are located and organize the whole transport, e.g., from the patient to the laboratory.
Does it happen often that you are organizing transport on several continents at the same time?
Julia Döring: Yes, normally these studies are always conducted worldwide, if only because new vaccines have to be tested on a wide variety of age and ethnic groups. It has to be tested on young people, people around 50, and older people. You [the pharmaceutical company] actually have to sort of clarify all the contingencies before you actually get approval.
What tasks do you take on in the process?
Julia Döring: Well, the pharmaceutical companies come to us and say that they now have this new study. Then one of our project managers or project coordinators, like me, and a deputy take over. There are always two of us. Then we clarify with the customer what kind of sample or product they need and what exactly needs to be transported before presenting them with solutions. For example, we have packaging solutions if something has to be transported at extreme temperatures such as -60 C. In a plan, we specify once more the exact processes, and the correct temperature and packaging. We clarify everything for import-export. I also train our operational staff on site, explain the study to them, what packaging we need, and what needs to be observed.
Are the Covid-19 vaccines a particular challenge, or were you well prepared?
Julia Döring: Since the beginning of the pandemic, Marken has been prepared to adapt to the evolving demand for clinical vaccine trials and the evolving decentralized trial landscape. Working together with our parent company, UPS, we have the network, unlike any other to reach patients in all corners of the world. We were fully operational and provided alternative transport solutions to our clients to mitigate risk and further delay due to pandemic restrictions.
From around 60 project managers, we have now grown as a team to almost 100. Fortunately, we also stocked appropriate packaging at the beginning of the pandemic, because later there were sometimes long delays. Due to the pandemic everything has now had to happen much faster than with other studies. The pharmaceutical companies are contacting us and wanting to start already the following week.
Have you personally taken anything away from this time?
Julia Döring: Personally, I have more confidence in the whole approval process. You actually have little insight into what all happens before a vaccine is approved. That's why many people think that this time it has happened too quickly. However, almost twice as many people took part in the trials as usual. So there was a lot more testing.
How long have you been on the team?
Julia Döring: I joined Marken in February of this year. Since the pandemic, Marken has grown from 1100 employees to 1691 to continue to meet the increased demand for clinical decentralized trials.
What do you like best?
Julia Döring: I like the connections I have made thus far and the team members I have worked with, in particulary my job buddy Maria, who has helped me gain more insight and knowledge to the role and background of the company and its full service solution offerings. Before this job, I already had an excellent foundation of knowledge in logistics in general, but as far as how it works specifically in pharmaceutical companies, I was clueless. For example, I first had to learn how we prepare packages for ultracold transport, what cold packs are used, and what all needs to be taken into account. It's a lot of information to take in at first.
The most fun part is getting a new project. After the kickoff meeting, we really think about specific solutions for the study. What packaging do we need? What do we need to consider? What samples do we have? Some sample types have a longer shelf life than others, which sometimes have to be at the lab and evaluated within hours.
Does your master's degree, which you completed at KLU, help you in your job?
Julia Döring: Well, it's definitely a good foundation. When I did my bachelor's degree at the University of Regensburg, I had a logistics focus, but it was almost all about automotive production. In my master's degree, I was exposed to all kinds of areas, e.g. spare parts, finished goods, etc.. You have a broader view, and you look at a much larger spectrum. You really see how different these supply chains are in different areas. Also, working with international classmates has prepared me well to adapt and collaborate with such a diverse group of colleagues in different areas of the world and on different timezones.
What advice would you give to students interested in your field?
Julia Döring: Well, I think you can prepare a little better than I did if you are planning to specialize in medical supply chains (laughs). Best advice I can give to someone looking into this field is to continue to read articles and educate themselves on the trends and latest news. It helps if you know how clinical trials work and which stakeholders are involved. I actually discovered this area and job by accident. In the PM team most members have a background in areas of medicine, chemistry and biology. Logistics knowledge is also useful, just apply and try it out. Anything you don’t already know you can learn on the job.