To remain a world leader in supply chain logistics for 35 years, it takes determination, experience, the right team, and continuous innovation, all of which Marken has no shortage.
By integrating depot and logistics services into solutions that extend the reach of clinical trials to even the most remote regions of the world, Marken has bridged the distance between the patient and the essential resources of life science companies.
“Over the last four years, we have continually remained ahead of our competition,” said Wes Wheeler, CEO of Marken, citing technology, investments and personalized services as the driving factors during a recent interview.
Having been in the business of operating facilities and companies for over 35 years, Wheeler knows more than just a thing or two about successfully running an organization. With GlaxoSmithKline and Exxon Mobile on his impressive resume, Wheeler was initially attracted to join Marken because of its positive reputation, global positioning and efforts for expansion.
These were also influencing factors for Ariette van Strien to join Marken, CCO, and Dan Bell, VP for Regulatory Compliance and Technical Affairs.
“The initial attraction was the potential, and the continued attraction is the success that we have,” said van Strien, whose primary responsibility is to drive Marken forward with the right clients.
“Marken is the best company around for specialized logistics, and I wanted to work for the company at the top of the list and apply my own knowledge,” said Bell.
All three executives take pride in working for a specialized logistics and supply chain provider that is solely dedicated to pharma and the life sciences industry. Identifying themselves as a vital link to transport pharmaceuticals to patients, Marken as an organization plays an important role within the clinical research industry for supply chain services related to drug development and disease control.
With over 50,000 temperature-controlled shipments each month, and a staff of 600+ individuals across the globe, how does one company answer the needs of a global population while consistently advancing amidst a hyper-competitive market?
Step 1: Pursue innovation
Marken constantly reviews technology and new services to ensure they are meeting the needs of clients and the industry trends..
Marken consistently and constantly evaluates the technology of the market’s packaging solutions. As a global provider, entering geographic locations with high or inconsistent temperature ranges can pose a threat to the quality and efficacy of materials being shipped. It’s important to seek out packaging solutions that offer longer duration of temperature stability as well as higher payload capacity.
In order to maintain the stability of drugs, blood samples and other biologic materials, thermo-isolating materials are integrated into specialty outer packaging so that clients can rest assured knowing their materials will sustain their temperatures for longer periods of time without interruption.
“More efficient insulating materials used in thermal packaging also allows for a higher payload by placing more product in less boxes. This can maintain or reduce shipping costs,” said Bell.
Significant investments have also been made to internal IT systems. With two main software platforms—Marken Solo and Marken Maestro—managing the inventory of drugs and tracking shipments is truly state of the art.
“Managing shipments from start to finish is critical, not just to us but to our clients as well,” added Bell. “Today’s technology includes integration of remote GPS devices into the IT systems.”
Bell explains that Marken incorporates GPS tracking systems to remotely monitor not just the location of a shipment, but the environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, pressure, shock, and vibration as well.
“We are constantly looking for what’s going to make our clients’ lives easier, giving them the assurance that their shipments are being handled in an appropriate manner,” said Bell.
“In the case of software, Marken and our clients have complete visibility both in real time and in terms of metrics,” he added. “Both of our systems allow us to extract data and make quicker, more meaningful decisions about our operations.”
While the pharmaceutical industry in general is behind in integrating the latest technology trends, Marken separates itself from competition by maintaining the leadership role in driving the industry forward to offer the best services possible.
“We want to make sure that Marken remains ahead of the curve, and using technology allows us to make smart decisions and deliver the best value,” concluded Bell.
Marken is a leader in direct to patient shipments for the pharmaceutical industry so that shipments can be handled without compromising a clinical trial protocol. Patient recruitment and retention are two of the biggest challenges, but bringing the trial to the patient’s home increases willingness to participate and may provide better retention and compliance.
“Marken will continue to grow, adapt, and evolve our Direct to Patient services for the industry. Client feedback indicates that the patient-centric focus is on a fast pace of growth. In fact, Marken was recently granted permission by the government to deliver the first direct to patient shipment of clinical drug product in Korea. This precedent-setting shipment has allowed several patients in South Korea to continue receiving their clinical trial drugs during the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory System (MERS),” Van Strien said
Step 2: Operate with excellence
Marken has its own operational excellence program that is based on LEAN and Six Sigma principles. Towards the end of 2014, key charters, quality control issues and interactions between global functions were evaluated to determine what could be improved. The result was the creation of a well-defined program that could monitor and measure targeted areas on specific accounts.
“I believe in the principles of applying very stringent tools on how you measure your business, how you can streamline activities by leaning them out and reducing the number of steps,” Wheeler said. “We are applying that in a very rigorous way here that extends all the way into new IT systems and how we can reduce certain staff and steps by integrating systems across the company. There are multiple projects and Dan [Bell] is at the center of that, measuring them every month.”
“The industry itself has done a very good job of identifying what key performance indicators should be,” explained Bell, “but I believe we lead in developing those.”
In addition to looking internally, Marken has also developed a key account management program to build client satisfaction.
“We meet with [our clients] on a very regular basis in order to understand the strategy they need, align our goals and develop services,” said Van Strien. “We make it easy for our clients to work with us.”
Maintaining the quality of staff and recruiting fast enough to support the company’s growth has been a challenge for Marken—but not one that couldn’t be overcome.
After almost doubling their staff from 375 employees four years ago to 600 employees now, Marken realized there are key valuable attributes shared amongst their employees.
“We realized that there was a willingness to create and a drive to take ownership,” explained van Strien. “Those are the kind of people we are attracting and who are very successful within our company. When it comes down to it, we are the ones who will be called for any of the complicated supply chain challenges that happen every day throughout the world, so we need to attract a very specific mindset of strong, creative employees worldwide, and I think we do it really well.”
Step 3: Continue to Surpass and Improve
Marken ensures the delivery of shipments on time thanks to the company’s knowledge of life science, regulatory experience, a global depot network, and at times, just sheer determination of its employees.
From traversing through an earthquake in Chile to delivering medicine to a sick child in Australia despite airline closures, Marken has always found a solution for success.
“We remember that there’s always a patient behind each shipment, and you become very creative not to give up and to find the best solution,” van Strien said.
“It’s become a part of our DNA,” she added. “We have always been extremely good at that and it’s our passion to make sure everything is done on time.”
Step 4: Plan for future growth
Wheeler, van Strien, Bell and the entire team at Marken have spent the past four years building a strong foundation for success. Now, as Wheeler puts it, the company is ready to “make a lot of noise.”
As the supply chain industry continues to evolve, becoming more direct-to-patient, Marken will be there to set the standards of excellence. With 10 established depots worldwide and plans to expand portfolio services, is there really anything this company can’t do?
“We have the edge on technology, the know-how, the service and have global and regional agreements with almost all of the key players on the clinical side,” said Wheeler. “We don’t just speak logistics, we speak pharma; we are not just transportation people, we are pharma people. We are 100 percent dedicated to this industry.”
“We’ll continue to make a lot of progress over the next 12 months,” he concluded.