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Life Science Logistics: Preparing for Challenges Helps Avoid Them

The life science industry is shattering records. For 2020 and into 2021, the North American sector received a 93% increase in investment capital from the previous high in 2018. Pharmaceuticals now make up a $1.3 trillion global market with annual growth exceeding 8%. Life science businesses are posting double-digit job growth and represent one of the biggest demands for real estate. The steep growth curve shows no signs of stopping with on-going demand from an aging population worldwide.

The boom is great for our personal well-being, pet health, and food supply, but the pressures of life science supply chain logistics put companies to the test. With a large portion of materials both time- and temperature-sensitive, companies find themselves balancing consumer demand with product safety. When a few degrees, minutes, or in-transit bumps could mean the difference between saving a life or disposing of thousands of dollars in product, businesses must innovate inside their supply chain. Fortunately, opportunities exist for companies to overcome the common—and costly—challenges of life science logistics.

Automate Paperwork

Drug, vaccine, and medical device components come from across the world. The “ocean timeliness indicator” measures how long a shipment takes from a supplier’s warehouse to the departure gate of the destination port. For one of the world’s biggest lanes—China to the U.S.—the journey took under 50 days three years ago. Today the number consistently exceeds 100. Manual paperwork often creates additional delays due to errors and missing information. Automated paperwork expedites the customs process so shipments can move through ports and between transportation providers as quickly as possible. Automated documents are especially important for hazardous or controlled substances which carry additional regulations. The automation helps ensure all information is present and validated so shipments meet their time-sensitive deadlines.

Leverage Tracking Technology

According to the Institute for Human Data Science, the biopharma industry loses around $35 billion annually to failures in temperature-controlled logistics. When temperature excursions occur, knowing by how many degrees and for how long is critical. Temperature tracking shipments and recording the data is important for pharmaceutical efficacy. When first released, some COVID-19 vaccines required ultra-low temperatures and then refrigeration for thawing prior to usage. This required special transport, storage, timing, and temperature tracking to meet the vaccine’s strict requirements from leaving the manufacturing plant to human injection.

Life science products also usually carry strict time requirements. For some, viability is only a matter of days. Delays in the supply chain push against expiration dates that can render entire shipments unusable. In the case of biological therapeutics, shipments may need to be redirected to different medical facilities based on demand. Real-time tracking allows companies and logistics providers to proactively respond to potential delays that could create spoilage or reassign shipments in transit. The 360-degree view automated tracking provided allows logistics teams to stop problems before they occur.

Create Standard Operating Procedures

How should staff handle products? Who is notified when temperature excursions occur? What is the testing protocol for cold storage equipment? A procedural document should answer these questions and many more—including shipping time, temperature ranges, and handling instructions. Standardized procedures should help train staff and provide operational guidelines as products move across the supply chain. They also must outline what happens when things go wrong. SOPs help create continuity across various groups interacting with a shipment to protect and maintain its efficacy.

Test Packaging

Qualified packaging meets temperature requirements throughout transport, as well as other sensitivities like light exposure or vibration tolerances. Packaging evaluations should use controlled conditions replicating real travel. This includes altitudes, road conditions, storage facilities, and transfers outside of temperature-controlled equipment. Shippers should review packaging for allowable excursions. Validated packaging passes the qualification trial and maintains an approved temperature range over time. The packaging must regulate the temperature from the point of departure to opening at the destination. Creating, procuring, and validating the right packaging for life science products takes time and must be part of the pre-planning process. The upfront investment saves money long-term by protecting valuable materials throughout the uncertainties of the supply chain.

Select the Right Partner

Life science shipping requires experience, knowledge, and innovative thinking. While thousands of logistics companies operate in the U.S., only the absolute best serve the life science sector. Langham Logistics partners with clients who demand compliance and accuracy every step of the way. We are one of only a few 3PLs licensed by the Boards of Pharmacy and offer extensive cGDP transportation capabilities. Our GMP storage and distribution facilities specialize in life science products, including pharmaceuticals and biologics. Learn more about our consulting, transportation, and warehousing services to see why many of the world’s biggest life science and pharmaceutical companies choose Langham Logistics.

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