Pharmaceutical Logistics: Overview, Best Practices & Challenges

The world relies on pharmaceuticals more than you could possibly imagine. As a manufacturer that deals with pharmaceutical products and materials on a daily basis, you know this more than anybody.

Unfortunately, pharmaceutical logistics can be frustrating, difficult and often expensive. Navigating the complexities of the logistics involved and understanding the correct way to transport pharmaceuticals to and from labs, sites or testing facilities can become nothing short of challenging.

Luckily, there are ways to do it (and they’re much easier than you think). We’ve put together a guide specifically  for stakeholders who need to transport pharmaceutical materials or samples.

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Shipping pharmaceuticals for R&D: a brief overview

Businesses always need to ship pharmaceuticals and associated materials with one key theme in mind: transporting the goods safely. This is especially important early on in the research and development phase as materials could be potentially toxic or dangerous.

There are often multiple stages of the R&D process when it comes to pharmaceuticals. At every stage that requires shipping, it is integral to ensure the potency of the goods you are transporting. If any of the pharmaceutical products are compromised, your business could be placed at risk.

Once pharmaceutical materials are packed, they’re usually entrusted into the care of specialised carriers, often traveling in temperature-controlled transport, to maintain optimal conditions.

The vehicles need to be driven carefully and by drivers with the appropriate accreditations to protect the materials being shipped. If the goods are being shipped internationally, carriage by air regulations need to be carefully observed.

It is a delicate process that needs to be overseen by experienced professionals (ideally, a courier who specialises in pharmaceutical transport services).

How to ship pharmaceuticals

Below, we’ll explain some best practices when it comes to transporting pharmaceutical products.

Ensure you have the correct equipment and vehicles

One of the foundational aspects of pharmaceutical logistics is having the appropriate equipment and vehicles for transportation.

For certain shipment, refrigerated vehicles equipped with temperature-monitoring systems are essential to maintaining the integrity of temperature-sensitive products throughout transit.

Comply with all applicable pharmaceutical transportation regulations

Ensuring the safe transport of pharmaceutical products and their active ingredients via air requires a meticulous logistical strategy.

Any misstep in handling could jeopardise the integrity of these vital goods, especially when exposed to temperature fluctuations during transit.

Adherence to regulations is therefore non-negotiable. Organisations must comply with stringent guidelines set forth by regulatory bodies such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – this includes the Temperature Control Regulations (TCR) and more.

You can read more here: IATA | Pharma & Healthcare Products Handling

Ensure proper labelling and documentation

Proper labelling, documentation and handling procedures are imperative to ensure compliance and mitigate risks during transportation. 

Starting from July 2012, the IATA Time and Temperature Sensitive Label became a compulsory requirement tailored for the healthcare sector.

This label is designated for shipments classified as time and temperature sensitive cargo, serving as a vital indicator of the external transportation temperature range for each shipment.

The onus falls upon the shipper (or their designated agent) to diligently apply this label to all healthcare cargo shipments booked under the time and temperature sensitive category.

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Pharmaceutical transport requires stringent labeling - Jag Express

What is the storage temperature for pharmaceutical products?

Pharmaceutical products and the materials that they are made from have distinct storage temperature requirements based on their characteristics. Understanding these requirements is crucial for preserving product quality and efficacy.

There are primarily three types of storage temperatures:

  • Ambient storage (20°C-25°C): Suitable for products like pills, capsules, and tablets. These should be kept at controlled room temperature.
  • Refrigerated storage (2°C to 8°C): Ideal for vaccines, insulin, and certain eye drops, for example.
  • Frozen storage (Under 0°C): Reserved for extremely sensitive products such as tissue samples, biosamples used in clinical trials, and certain advanced therapies like cellular and gene therapies. Subzero storage will be necessary; sometimes dry ice is used to support the temperature controlled environment.

Common challenges in pharmaceutical logistics

Delivering pharmaceutical products is difficult. We can’t deny that.

From logistical hurdles and safety issues to reputational challenges, navigating these obstacles requires vigilance and strategic planning.

Here are three challenges we find particularly important to keep in mind.

Ensuring the safety of your goods

Every single stage of your transport chain needs to be meticulously planned, with the safety of your materials at the forefront of mind – and the impact they could have on the local environment.

Any deviation from optimal storage conditions during transit can compromise the end-products’ efficacy and safety.

Imagine if an issue within your transport system caused critical ingredients of a new drug or pharmaceutical product to fail testing. 

Turnaround times

Rapid turnaround times are often imperative, particularly when testing between sites or labs is within a set time window. 

Orchestrating intricate logistics to meet these urgent demands poses significant challenges (and often results in increased costs).

Balancing the urgency of rapid delivery with the need for product safety and affordability remains paramount for manufacturers. But striking this delicate equilibrium involves carefully integrating timely delivery practices with compliance of movements and costs. 

Driver availability and training

The world is going through a driver shortage. In 2023, it was predicted to double by 2028. The shortage of qualified drivers poses a significant challenge to the transport of pharmaceutical products.

Adequate training and retention strategies are essential to ensure a reliable workforce capable of handling the specialised requirements of transporting pharmaceutical goods.

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Are you transporting pharmaceuticals? Work with an expert

When shipping pharmaceutical materials or samples (domestically or internationally), you’ll be walking across a minefield. There are thousands of things that can go wrong.

It therefore comes as no surprise that pharmaceutical logistics requires specialised knowledge and expertise.

Medical couriers play a crucial role in ensuring the safe and efficient transportation of these sensitive products. They also take a world of stress away from the businessowners that rely on them.

At Jag Express, we offer professional pharmaceutical logistics solutions tailored to the unique needs of the industry.

We are a trusted partner used by market-leading companies to maintain the integrity of medical shipments – you can read our latest case study based on world-class biopharmaceutical company here.

We understand at a deep level the requirements and challenges associated with pharmaceutical transport. We’re here to offer you a seamless solution that takes the weight off your shoulders.

Contact us for a quote (and that peace of mind you are looking for).