Deep risk in pharmaceutical shipping sparks debate

Pharmaceuticals and related components ship across the globe on a daily basis. Due to the nature of the medicines shipped, there are always some risks to consider before, during and after shipment. What are the most common risks that a pharmaceutical company needs to consider when shipping their product? How does this shift in transportation style change the overall logistics of pharmaceutical shipments?


Temperature is one of the most important concerns when transporting a lot of pharmaceuticals. Medicines that are supposed to be kept at room temperature needs to be stored at temperatures between 59-77 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold chain pharmaceuticals, which we’ll discuss more in depth in a minute, have to be kept at temperatures between 35 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain maximum efficacy.

Maintaining the proper temperature to store these pharmaceuticals during transport requires real-time temperature monitoring, both in the warehouses and on the trucks used to carry them. Products that are sensitive to temperature could potentially be stored in temperature-controlled containers. Not only will these containers protect the products during transport, loading, and unloading, but they also serve as a backup if the temperature controls fail at the storage or transport location.

Cold Chain Shipment

Cold chain shipments are becoming more and more common. This is due to recent changes in global regulations in the United States and the EU designed to increase quality control and ensure the highest-quality products are consistently delivered across the globe.

Compliance with these new global regulations has proven challenging for some smaller companies and has also presented problems for clinical trials and studies that rely on these same cold chain shipments for their supplies. The demand for cold chain shipments is currently on the rise since so many medications that were previously shipped at room temperature now have to be kept much colder.

The cold chain shipment industry is constantly changing, and innovations are improving the way these pharmaceuticals ship across the globe.

Ship vs. Air Transport

It would make sense to utilize air transport as the quickest and most efficient way to carry medicine and medical components around the world, but one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies has recently chosen to move most of its cold chain shipments to ships rather than transporting them by air.

AstraZeneca, one of the biggest names in pharmaceuticals, switched 70 percent of its shipments to ocean freight.

Both air and sea transport have their pros and cons. Most pharmaceuticals are time-sensitive, but for products that don’t have to be moved quickly, ocean freight is a less costly option.

Ocean transport does present additional risks as well. While piracy has been declining in recent years, there is always the danger of theft or similar events. Ocean freight also increases the risk of product loss due to weather.

On the other hand, air transport presents its own problems. One of the biggest concerns is product loss due to theft at the airport, either before departure or after arrival.

While both forms of transportation have their good and bad aspects, more and more companies are moving toward ocean freight for the transportation of their products due to the reduced overall cost of transportation. Working out the logistics of these different shipping types can prove to be challenging, especially if some products are shipped by seas and others by air.

Logistics: Behind the Scenes

Why are transport and logistics such an important topic when it comes to the movement of pharmaceuticals across the globe? The easiest way to sum it up is in three simple words – supply and demand.

More and more pharmaceutical companies are utilising transport methods like ocean freight that we discussed a moment ago. These methods are more cost effective but much slower than air transport. The speed of transport has to be taken into account when planning shipments and making sure that they are delivered promptly. The pharmacists creating the drugs then need to properly label them so that they are properly transported to prevent damage to the product. If they have a product with a quick expiration date, it must be noted because sending it on a ship could place mishandled medicines into the hands of thousands, risking their health.

Occasionally, events crop up that require more direct intervention, such as the West African Ebola Outbreak of 2014, and these events can even further skew the information needed for demand forecasting. This puts more stress on scientists to work towards a vaccine to counteract the outbreak. Likewise, governments need to react to properly inform the public of necessary health concerns and allow everyone to get the proper treatment.

No matter what form of transportation utilized, there are always going to be risks when transporting pharmaceuticals. The only thing these companies can do is do everything they can to reduce the risks during every step of transport, from when the products leave the production floor until they reach their final destination. On-time transport can mean the difference between life and death for people across the globe, so mitigating transportation risk doesn’t just reduce overhead and loss, it can also quite literally save lives.

The most important thing is to find the balance between the most common forms of transport and determine if utilising cost-saving methods like ocean freight will create the same sort of shipping experience.

Megan Ray Nichols

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.