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Pharmaceutical Logistics 101

Pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical precursors, and medical technology are highly sensitive transport goods. Logistics service providers active in the life sciences and healthcare sector must meet strict legal requirements to preserve the effectiveness of medicines and ensure the safe transportation of pharmaceuticals. Find out what is important in pharmaceutical logistics.

What Does Pharmalogistics mean?

Pharmaceutical logistics comprises all logistical processes resulting from the special requirements of pharmaceuticals during handling, storage, and transportation.

Pharmaceutical logistics processes include the intralogistics of manufacturing companies, logistics service providers, importers, wholesalers, and pharmacies.

The task of pharmaceutical logistics is ensuring the availability of medicines as well as the active ingredients and excipients that are needed to produce them – and this along the entire supply chain so that production does not come to a standstill and pharmacies can always obtain the necessary pharmaceutical products for their end customers.

Strict Regulations for Quality Assurance

Pharmaceutical logistics must also preserve the quality and effectiveness of medicines and avoid harmful environmental impacts. For this reason, pharmaceutical logistics is subject to strict legal regulations: for example, WHO guidelines at global level, EU regulations in the EU area, and national legislation. Additionally, there are European guidelines such as the “Good Distribution Practice” (GDP) directive for human medicines. It provides complete control over the entire supply chain of medicines and active ingredients.

Speciality Field of Medical Technology

Logistics and medicine: this relationship does not end with pharmaceuticals and active ingredients. It also includes the medical technology market, which is changing due to digitization. From cardiac pacemakers to large-scale equipment in the operating room – sensitive technology places the highest demands on logistics. Each medical instrument has its own specific requirements. Once again, it is crucial to organize the entire supply chain in such a way that the highest quality standards are met and the manufacturer’s specifications are fully complied with – so that the medical devices can fulfil their vital tasks immediately after delivery.

Special Challenges of Logistics for Pharmaceutical Companies

Compliance with strict regulations, precise control, and a need for delivery that is not only reliable but, in many cases, also fast – these factors make supply chains in pharmaceutical logistics very complex. In addition, pharmaceutical products and active ingredients have differing chemical-physical properties. Individual processes are essential for their storage and transportation.

Many pharmaceutical products require permanent refrigeration. This calls for efficient cooling technology in the warehouse, vehicles, and transport boxes. In pharmaceutical logistics, only storage areas and vehicles with efficient temperature control systems can be used. Comprehensive documentation of temperatures is also mandatory. For some pharmaceuticals, even the humidity is not arbitrary but must be regulated and monitored.

Intercontinental shipping through different climate zones by sea or air freight must comply with equally high quality standards as road transportation at EU and national level. It is not only the changing climatic conditions that pose an additional challenge here, but also the national legal requirements on handling pharmaceutical products, which vary from country to country, and the complex import-export regulations.

Like other industries, the life sciences and healthcare sector is subject to seasonal fluctuations. Just as with seasonal products before Christmas or the summer vacations, flu medication, for instance, is in greater demand in winter than at other times of the year. Pharmaceutical logistics must also adapt to this. Experience with Covid-19 has shown how critical demand forecasts will be for medical supplies in future pandemics. Pharmaceutical logistics is not just about delivering commodities on time, but also about life and death in an emergency.

The transport routes and quantities in pharmaceutical logistics are individual and call for needs-based logistics solutions. Be it the delivery of active ingredients and excipients to the production site or a laboratory, the transportation of larger batches from production to the interim storage of the wholesaler, or the onward transport of smaller quantities from the wholesaler to the pharmacy. More recently, distribution via mail-order pharmacies also plays an increasing role.

Furthermore, medical progress is allowing medicines to be tailored to specific genetic characteristics and needs. This translates into smaller batches for individual medicines right from the production, which may involve customized storage and transport solutions.

Success Factors of Pharmaceutical Logistics Services

Apart from modern refrigeration technology in vehicles, warehouses, and transport boxes, digital technologies and automation are becoming ever more important for pharmaceutical logistics. This certainly applies to the entire logistics industry when it comes to responding to the future logistics challenges of a customized world of production and consumption. However, this is particularly true for the life sciences and healthcare sector. Due to the high requirements and strict regulations, it is even more important to have consistent and transparent supply chain management.

Added to this is the rapid and small-scale product development in the pharmaceutical sector. As a response, supply chains must be agile, flexible, resilient, and collaborative. Success is only possible with highly developed digital solutions for process automation, data analysis, networking, tracking, and risk management.

Services of DHL Freight for the Pharmaceutical Logistics Industry

DHL Freight is GDP certified as a reliable partner for pharmaceutical logistics in over 20 countries. The certification means that we always comply with manufacturer-specific storage and safety requirements for pharmaceutical products.

The DHL Freight Coldchain network is our special offering for companies in the life sciences and healthcare business. Our specialists have profound expertise in all areas of pharmaceutical logistics. The DHL Freight Coldchain provides an international transport network for temperature-sensitive shipments in more than 30 European countries. During the cold chain transport, the temperature is continuously measured and transmitted via GPS.

The data is available to our customers online in real time – along with all other relevant information on the status of the delivery. Needless to say, all warehouses and cross-docking stations are GDP-compliant and equipped to guarantee continuous temperature control.


Pharmaceutical Logistics Requires Smart Solutions for Complex Tasks

Legal, product-specific and technical requirements combined with deadline pressure – pharmaceutical logistics poses tremendous challenges for market players. This makes sophisticated digital solutions and a well-developed logistics network all the more important for facilitating seamless cold chains and transparent supply chains, which are essential for pharmaceutical transports. With extensive experience in the storage and transportation of pharmaceutical and medical technology products, DHL Freight stands for first-class operational service and innovative solutions for all logistics requirements in the life sciences and healthcare sector. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

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