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The Challenges of Life Sciences Logistics

Life sciences companies must comply with a number of stringent regulations when they ship their products around the world. In this QAD Precision Report, we look at the challenges of life sciences logistics.

Pharmaceutical, medical device and other life sciences companies have unique responsibilities when they ship their goods around the world. People’s health and well-being is at stake should critical products not arrive on time. This is a challenge — it is not hyperbole to say that delays can be fatal.

A further complication is the need for products to arrive in perfect condition. Many life sciences products require specialist handling as they move through carrier networks. Damage in transit may render products ineffectual, or even harmful. As a result, life sciences companies face unique challenges when shipping goods across town, across country or around the world.

Temperature and Environmental Considerations

Pharmaceutical, biologics and other life sciences products can be sensitive to fluctuations in temperature or other environmental factors. Certain products must be kept refrigerated — sometimes at extremely low cryogenic temperatures — as they move from the manufacturing plant and on to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and patients. 

Vaccines, tissue samples and other biological matter as well as  certain biotechnological innovations need controlled temperatures during transportation.

Sunlight, humidity and other environmental factors can also impact the efficacy of life sciences products. Depending on the time of year, life sciences companies may need to ensure that the carriers that they use take different routes to specific destinations. 

Shocks and vibrations can be another distinct worry. Research suggests that for most e-commerce deliveries, boxes are dropped an average of 17 times before the final recipient receives them. When you ship sensitive medical devices and technology, as well as pharmaceuticals, this cannot happen.

Correct handling is a distinct worry for logistics managers in life sciences companies. If products are incorrectly handled at any point of their journey to the patient, these temperature controls may not be met. 

The Importance of Packaging 

As a result of these temperature and environmental factors, life sciences companies must ensure that their products are transported using appropriate packaging. Examples of these include active and smart packaging that can regulate temperature and/or measure environmental conditions. 

Such packaging is not necessary for all temperature sensitive life sciences products. Gel packs or dry ice, rather than active packaging, may be suitable for certain products. 

Getting the Documentation Correct

No matter what kind of goods you ship — from t-shirts to technology — the correct documentation must accompany the shipment. For life sciences companies, the correct documentation is even more critical. If critical items are stuck in customs, the health and wellbeing of people is at stake. In addition, therapeutic agents may have short half lives — some some, these are days, not weeks, months or years. Therefore, delays can mean that treatments don’t reach patients while they are still effective.

Furthermore, life sciences companies often need to include additional documentation with their products, such as hazmat documentation or handling instructions. For sensitive products impacted by environmental factors, clear handling instructions with specific information related to temperature, vibrations, sunlight and other environmental issues that may impact a product’s efficacy are critical.

Choosing the Right Transportation Partners

As well as the correct packaging and clear, specific instructions, life sciences companies need to work with carriers that are properly equipped to handle their products. Carriers must handle life science products properly at all times, as well as store and transport these goods according to the specifications of the life science company. Not all carriers offer such services — nor do they need to when moving retail or consumer goods. Therefore, life sciences companies need networks of carriers that offer specialist handling, including hospital delivery services and cold-chain transportation.

Furthermore, transportation partners need to be able to deliver across both urban and rural environments. Road networks and transportation infrastructure may be lacking in remote areas, adding further challenges to delivery. Life sciences companies need carriers that can offer the capabilities, services levels and routes to ensure that life saving products get where they need to be.

The Necessity of Regulatory Compliance

Given the critical nature of their work, life sciences companies need to comply with a lot of regulations. As we have seen during the Covid-19 global pandemic, regulations can change quickly. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration has issued guidance for companies making critical products to fight the pandemic that differ from the FDA’s normal regulatory requirements. 

In addition to the regulations that govern the production of certain products, life sciences companies must also adhere to regulations regarding the distribution of their products. These too are subject to change. As we have seen in recent weeks, a number of countries have sought to block the export of products used to fight the coronavirus. In addition, some countries importing such products have made it easier to do so.

Even under normal circumstances, adherence to global trade regulations is complex. This is particularly true if a company has sites around the world and ships to several different destinations. This means that life sciences companies must adhere to a number of different regulatory regimes and remain compliant with them all. Procedures can change without warning, trading partners may become subject to additional regulations or restrictions and life sciences companies must comply. As a result, life sciences companies need to manage rapid change in order to reduce the risk of compliance missteps.


Life sciences companies have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic in a number of important ways. These include scaling the production of testing kits, respirators and other critical items as well as increasing research efforts to find a vaccine and donating supplies. As the life sciences industry continues to assist in the fight against the global pandemic, it underscores the importance of the correct handling of their products. Critical goods need and deserve the most stringent oversight and care as they move from manufacturing facilities and on to hospitals and patients. 

About QAD Precision – Trusted Global Trade and Transportation Execution

QAD Precision, a division of QAD Inc., provides industry-leading global trade compliance, and multi carrier transportation execution solutions from a single, integrated platform. An ISO-certified company, QAD Precision assists companies to streamline their import, export and transportation operations, optimize deliveries, and increase logistics ROI. QAD Precision’s scalable and extensible solution easily integrates with existing ERP and WMS solutions. Industry leaders in every region of the world rely on QAD Precision’s global support centers to leverage thousands of carrier services and manage millions of global trade and shipping transactions every day. For more information about QAD Precision, visit www.qadprecision.com.

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