Product Launch: A Critical Shipping Challenge


From supplying super-specialized implants to getting a new product on pharmacy shelves within hours of approval, distributors have an important role in health care.

From supplying super-specialized implants to getting a new product on pharmacy shelves within hours of approval, distributors have an important role in health care.

Launching a new pharmaceutical product is an enormous effort for pharmaceutical companies, often taking thousands of people decades to complete, but the challenges of shipping these new products following the launch are similarly daunting.

In addition to ensuring that pharmaceuticals are not shipped earlier than federal requirements allow (shipping must often be completed within a few hours of FDA approval), pharmacies often compete to ensure the best-possible shipping price when a new product becomes available on the market.

“Our team has helped launch dozens of products since we began offering this service in 2004,” said Scott Cubbler, vice president of operations for Exel Life Sciences.

The complexity of managing these shipments is considerable and may involve getting more than 1000 pallets of the product ready to ship within a few hours after a green light from the FDA.

Cubbler will accept nothing less than 100% on-time next-day delivery nationwide. The stakes are high, as delays of mere hours can add up to millions in lost sales.

“Speed to market is a key component to achieving success for any company launching a new product” Cubbler said.

In other words, timing is everything. Cubbler’s team is capable of supplying a new medication to as many as 10,000 pharmacies with as little as 12 hours of notice.

In one case, a new asthma medication was approved by the FDA at 12:01 am on a Sunday—an incredibly inconvenient time for shipping. Even with this timing challenge, the Exel team dispatched more than 650 trucks, successfully completed the initial shipment, and fulfilled orders for the pharmaceutical over a 3-day period.

Similar operations, such as FedEx HealthCare Solutions, manage shipping for more specialized products—one-of-a-kind implants for cranial and maxillofacial repair.

“If a patient gets into a car accident and breaks their skull we manufacture and produce the plates and screws that will actually screw into the bone to help mend the fracture,” said Austin Brancheau, a marketing associate at Stryker, a medical device company that uses the shipping services of FedEx HealthCare Solutions.

In this situation, the product is manufactured for a single patient. Regarding the specificity of these products, Brancheau noted, “The surgeon can actually send a CT scan directly to our engineers who actually produce these implants.”

The implants, which are produced in Germany, were available to a surgeon after a delay of up to 3 days. According to Stryker representatives, this was an unacceptable delay. By partnering with FedEx HealthCare Solutions, Stryker reduced that transit time to approximately 24 hours, and was able to track the shipment in real time throughout the transatlantic crossing.

Pharmaceutical and medical device shipments require specialized shipping solutions that are often only offered by a few select companies worldwide. These shipping companies must understand and operate within the limits of strict regulatory requirements while maintaining cost-effective and reliable delivery of products, often on short notice.

From one-of-a-kind products that are made for individual patients to product launches requiring product supply to thousands of pharmacies within hours of an FDA nod, shipping and logistics is a critically important part of health care delivery.


  • Exel. Fast supply chain response helps pharmaceutical giant win race to market. Accessed February 2015.
  • Stryker Medical. Fast delivery for life-saving shipments from Stryker Craniomaxillofacial. Accessed February 2015.

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