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Hospitals Accounted for Nearly One-Third of Specialty Distributor Sales in 2015

December 21, 2016

ARLINGTON, Va. — Sales to hospitals by specialty distributors significantly increased in 2015, according to new research by the HDA Research Foundation. As noted in Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution: Facts, Figures and Trends (2016 Edition), there was a seven percentage point increase in sales from specialty distributors to hospitals, climbing to 30 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, sales to independent physician-owned/-operated clinics continued to decrease from previous edition; these clinics captured 49 percent of specialty distributors’ sales.

Possible explanations for the shift seen in 2015 include hospital consolidation and acquisition of independent physicians, as well as the increased use of oral oncolytics, which are typically dispensed through retail pharmacies served by traditional distributors. Oncology products, in particular, represented the highest percentage of sales volume for specialty distributors in 2015, at 51 percent. Hemophilia drugs and supportive care (anemia, and blood modifiers) rounded out the top three at nearly 13 and 11 percent, respectively (increasing since 2014).

This annual publication captures the continued evolution of the U.S. specialty pharmaceutical segment, which, according to QuintilesIMS, was valued at $151 billion in 2015 — or about one-third of the total U.S. pharmaceutical market. Specialty products, which are formulated for populations with chronic or rare diseases, are typically biologic in nature and require special handling, storage, delivery and regulations. Accordingly, the publication details the critical role of the specialty distributors that support the safe and efficient delivery of these complex medications. It also notes other developments in the specialty segment, such as the introduction of biosimilars in the marketplace.

As in previous years, the publication is based on primary survey data collected from specialty distributor members of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) with reported sales of $1 billion or more in 2015, in addition to secondary data from other leading healthcare organizations. The 2016 edition is sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb; CuraScript SD; Genentech, Inc., A Member of the Roche Group; the H. D. Smith Foundation; Pharmacy First Third Party Station; Sensitech Inc.; and Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Inc.

Among the other findings in the new edition:

  • A typical HDA-member specialty distributor picks, on average, nearly 8,500 lines per business day, at a 99.9 percent fill rate; these companies then deliver to more than 19,000 unique ship-to points in less than 24 hours (22 hours on average). Meanwhile, 2,200 orders are received daily.
  • All distributors report using some type of cold chain handling while in transit. Ice packs and insulated boxes were reported to be the most common form of packing used in shipments.   

  • Specialty distributors reported having distribution agreements with an average of 113 manufacturing companies, with 100 percent of respondents reporting that they serve as the exclusive distributor for at least one product.

  • A variety of services are offered by specialty distributors to manufacturers, including supply chain services, patient and provider support, marketing, and financial and regulatory management, among others. 

  • Respondents indicated that the oncologic therapeutic area would increase in importance in 2017, while 80 percent of respondents also saw the areas of autoimmune/immune and cardiovascular increasing.

“The latest edition of Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution shows the complexity and unique nature of this segment, and the efficiencies HDA-member distributors provide to it,” said Perry Fri, Executive Vice President of Industry Relations, Membership & Education, HDA; and COO of the HDA Research Foundation, “For the first time, we are pleased to provide this book at no cost, allowing a wider audience to access to a variety of interesting trends on the specialty market.”

Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution: Facts, Figures and Trends (2016 Edition) is available for a complimentary download through the HDA Research Foundation website.


The HDA Research Foundation is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA). The Foundation serves as the thought leader in driving research, education and discussion for all healthcare supply chain stakeholders, enabling the industry's ability to deliver efficient, safe and secure patient access to medicines and medical products. Learn more at


The Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) represents primary pharmaceutical distributors — the vital link between the nation’s pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics and others nationwide. Since 1876, HDA has helped members navigate regulations and innovations to get the right medicines to the right patients at the right time, safely and efficiently. The HDA Research Foundation, HDA’s nonprofit charitable foundation, serves the healthcare industry by providing research and education focused on priority healthcare supply chain issues.


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