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Pharma ninjas.

In the past, Kōka was home to legendary ninjas who produced herbal medicines. Today, in the small Japanese city Bayer produces innovative drugs for the huge domestic market. The raw materials are supplied by airfreight.

 

A small town on the south west of Japan’s largest island, Honshu: a museum honouring legendary ninja warriors, lush vegetation with vast woodlands, plenty of rivers and almost 90,000 people spread over several locations. In the rural community of Kōka, people are linked to Japan’s major metropolitan areas in that they receive first-class treatment in the event of illness. Japan’s public health system is seen as one of the most highly developed worldwide.
It is based on the principle of providing treatment for all 127 million of the island state’s inhabitants. And ever more of them will probably require regular treatment or prescription medicines. One third of Japan’s population is now over 60 and therefore potentially more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases, including strokes, than younger people. Clearly they similarly benefit from the high standard of treatment.

Strategic Importance 

Whether young or old: the city of Kōka has played a major role in treating the Japanese population for hundreds of years. In times past, the region’s ninjas were skilled in preparing medicines based on herbs in addition to martial arts. Today, Kōka is home to the Supply Center Shiga, the plant of Bayer Yakuhin, subsidiary of the German global company Bayer, named after the surrounding prefecture.
“Japan is of particular strategic importance to Bayer,” says Dr. Hirohito

 

 

Katayama, Plant Head and Head of Product Supply Japan of Bayer Yakuhin. After the US, Japan’s pharmaceutical market is the second largest worldwide in relation to drug products originally developed and marketed by pharmaceutical companies.
Even though it lags behind the growth figures generated in the newly industrialized countries, Japan’s pharmaceutical and healthcare sector is developing well. This also has an effect on Bayer’s business in Japan, which in 2015 gener - ated 2.3 billion euros nationwide – 4.4 percent more than last year.
Bayer Yakuhin employs about 2,660 employees in Japan. “In 2015, Bayer Yakuhin jumped to tenth place in the ranking of pharmaceutical companies in Japan,” says Hirohito Katayama. The manager attributes the significant growth in a fiercely competitive market to the innovative products manufactured at the Supply Center Shiga, which include tablets for cardiovascular diseases for example.
What makes the products innovative? Developers focus on efficacy as well as drug formulation techniques. For example, certain tablets have been designed so that they are easy to chew and can be taken without water. “That makes it easier for patients who have a limited water intake,” explains Katayama. The tablet size has been reduced in another product. This means it is easier to swallow and does not lose any of its effect.

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Successful business: in 2015, Bayer generated sales of 2.3 billion euros with Japanese customers.

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Standing united: Dr. Hirohito Katayama, Head of Product Supply Japan at Bayer Yakuhin (far left), with Yoshihiro Yamamoto (Lufthansa Cargo) and the Bayer Supply Chain Manager Peter G. Meyer (Asia Pacific) and Nobuyuki Hirono (Japan).

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Control: drug freight is often transported in a temperaturecontrolled environment to preserve drug efficacy. Prime importance is attached to handling.

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Push: Unicooler containers, used by Lufthansa Cargo as part of the product Cool/td, enable freight temperatures to be managed between minus 20 and plus 30 degrees Celsius.

A third product, a granular powder filled in small bags, is similarly geared towards people with swallowing difficulties. Furthermore, Bayer Yakuhin has introduced tablets with a different time release of the active ingredients so that patients need only take one per day instead of two units.
The speed at which innovations like these reach the market is also worthy of note. According to Hirohito Katayama, in this respect Japan is faster than most other countries in granting approval to market new drugs: “This means the latest treatment methods are quickly made available to patients in Japan.”

Smooth Product Replenishment 

To avoid the replenishment of products from the Supply Center Shiga grinding to a halt, a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 lands at Kansai International Airport – IATA abbreviation: KIX – just outside Osaka, on a weekday morning punctually at 8.40 a.m. In the belly of the passenger jet from Frankfurt are half a dozen Unicooler containers for the temperaturemanaged transport. The container displays show an internal temperature of five degrees Celsius. “We transport goods for Bayer Yakuhin to here every week,” says Yoshihiro Yamamoto, Regional Manager Western Japan of Lufthansa Cargo. The manufacturer has been placing its trust in Lufthansa Cargo since 2008.
“We import both raw materials and preliminary stage products from abroad,”

 

 

says Hirohito Katayama. The goods are flown in from various European countries. For example, the Unicooler containers, which have arrived in the Boeing 747-400 – flight number LH740 – have already completed a feeder flight from Milan to Frankfurt. Bayer finished products for the Japanese market also regularly land on board Lufthansa machines at KIX Airport. However, they are not supplied to the plant in Kōka, but rather are transported directly to the manufacturer’s distribution centre in Osaka.
Heike Prinz has been President of Bayer Yakuhin since the beginning of this year. “Reliably providing patients with highquality and innovative products is our mission,” says the German national. “We attach great importance to a resilient supply network, and therefore work with reliable carriers such as Lufthansa Cargo.”
The goods make the last leg from KIX, spectacularly located on man-made islands in the bay of the city with close to three million inhabitants, to Supply Center Shiga via truck. The 140-kilometer trip takes about two hours. Once offloaded, the materials are stored for precisely defined periods in a temperature-controlled environment before processing commences under the most stringent of hygiene precautions. Delivery and production conditions that would have even delighted the legendary Kōka ninjas.

Pharmaceutical Product Handling in KIX

Lufthansa Cargo has been providing ultra-fast handling services for Bayer Yakuhin at Kansai International Airport (KIX) just outside Osaka since 2011. A customs agent clarifies the necessary formalities regarding the consignments that arrive each week on board a Boeing 747-400, stored in Unicooler containers, in just 70 minutes. Meanwhile, the goods, which are as valuable as they are sensitive, are stored in Lufthansa Cargo’s cooled import warehouse to protect them from exposure to the sun. Excellent infrastructure is in place via the KIX Medica Pharmaceutical Warehouse for the breakdown and interim storage until collection by the truck forwarding agent.

 

Photos:
Ben Weller