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Manufacture Business Practice, Technology and Equipment, Trends & Forecasts

Pharma Logistics: Up in the Air or in Deep Water?

What could be simpler than moving products from point A to point B? A great deal, as it turns out – especially when your product is a sensitive chemical compound or biological.

Shippers from all sectors have to deal with warehousing, transportation, customs clearance and regulatory compliance as they transport their goods across the world (easier said than done). But pharma companies also have to maintain a strict cold chain, where temperature excursions can ruin millions of dollars’ worth of drug – not to mention the potential impact on patients.

A staggering $35 billion worth of pharma products are scrapped every year (see our infographic: What a Waste), and 30 percent of those losses are attributable to logistics issues alone. During the journey from point A to point B, there are numerous hand-offs and opportunities for things to go wrong. In this feature, you’ll hear about pallets being left for days in the baking Dubai heat, communication mishaps, and unexpected bankruptcies...

Given the challenges posed by the logistics process, choosing the right method of transport is crucial. There are advantages and disadvantages to both air and sea freight: with sea generally saving on cost, and air being a quicker option that is more prone to temperature excursions. Recently, analysts have suggested that cost pressures and reliability issues have led pharma away from airfreight, which is instead taking to the seas. But as the industry shifts towards complex biologics and personalized therapies, will the trend continue? And what impact will new cold chain technologies and data monitoring systems have?

Much has changed for the logistics industry over the past half a century, with pharma supply chains becoming increasingly international. And as emerging markets continue to develop regulatory infrastructure – further globalizing pharma supply chains – predicting the dominant mode of travel is no easy feat. Here, we speak with experts from within the logistics industry – from both sides of the air versus sea debate – to assess where pharma’s future lies.

Pharma Logistics 101: Up, Up and Away?

Is the Tide Turning?

Need for Speed

Logistical Nightmares

Air or Sea: the Verdict

Compliance and Collaboration

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About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.


From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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