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Annual Survey of HDA Specialty Pharmaceutical Distributors Reveals Rising Importance of Certain Therapeutic Areas

December 12, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. — Specialty pharmaceutical distributors expect products in the autoimmune/immune and ophthalmology categories to rise in importance over the next 12 months, followed by oncology, central nervous system and inflammatory products. The findings were published in the HDA Research Foundation’s 2017 edition of Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution: Facts, Figures and Trends.

“With a U.S. market value of $181 billion as of 2016, specialty product sales now make up 40 percent of the overall U.S. pharmaceutical market,” said Perry Fri, Executive Vice President, Industry Relations, Membership and Education, HDA; and COO, HDA Research Foundation. “As the market continues its growth, our data provide a robust picture of the efficiencies and unique services provided by distributors in this segment.” 

Primary data for Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution were collected through a survey of HDA-member specialty distributors, most which report specialty sales greater than $1 billion. Data reflect the 2016 fiscal year (or the most recently completed fiscal year). Secondary research is included from leading healthcare organizations, including IQVIA (formerly QuintilesIMS).

Oncology still accounts for the largest percent of specialty distributors’ sales volume. An average of 51 percent of sales are for oncology products, followed by products in categories referred to as “other” (approximately 13 percent; extends to products such as those in the renal, asthma and gastrointestinal specialty product categories) and supportive care products (nearly 8 percent).

The percentage of sales through distributors continued to decrease from the previous year for independent physician-owned/-operated clinics (from 49 percent to 45 percent) and hospital-owned/-operated clinics (from 6 percent to 2 percent). Meanwhile, sales to hospitals (30 percent to 35 percent) and specialty pharmacies (6 percent to 8 percent) increased. Reasons for these shifts are due to hospital consolidation and acquisition of independent physicians, payer and PBM reimbursement strategies requiring drugs to be dispensed through a specialty pharmacy channel, the rise of oral oncolytics (dispensed at retail or specialty pharmacies, or delivered by traditional distributors) and a change in reporting methodologies.

The publication also notes that individual surveyed distributors each ship to more than 27,000 unique locations, with independent physicians accounting for the bulk of these ship-to points. Additionally, nearly 6,000 specialty pharmaceutical lines are picked daily, and specialty distributors have a nearly 99 percent fill rate. An average of 1.6 percent of specialty SKUs is returned annually.

Because specialty pharmaceuticals — many of which are formulated for populations with chronic or rare diseases — typically require special handling, storage, transport and regulating, distributors in this segment often provide critical services to support their safe and efficient delivery. For example, a majority (80 percent) of surveyed distributors believe that overall cold chain compliance and temperature monitoring are increasing in importance. Further, a variety of professional services, communication and marketing activities also are reported. Beyond the survey data, background on distribution models and the role of payers in the supply chain is included.

The 2017 edition of Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution: Facts, Figures and Trends was produced with support from platinum sponsor CuraScript SD; silver sponsors Genentech Inc., A Member of the Roche Group; and Value Drug Company; and bronze sponsors Pharmacy First; Sensitech Inc.; and Smith Drug Company, Div. J M Smith Corporation. The publication is available for a complimentary download through the HDA 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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