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HDA Research Foundation Specialty Pharmaceutical Analysis Highlights Distributor Efficiencies Amid Evolving Market Dynamics

December 18, 2018

ARLINGTON, Va. — Data published by the HDA Research Foundation reveal the changing market dynamics of the nearly $200 billion specialty pharmaceutical supply chain segment — and the important role HDA-member specialty pharmaceutical distributors play within it. The 2018 Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution: Facts, Figures and Trends publication is based on an annual survey of HDA-member specialty distributors with sales greater than $1 billion for the 2017 (or most recently completed) fiscal year, and includes secondary data from leading healthcare organizations, such as IQVIA.

For the latest edition, the HDA Research Foundation updated its definition of specialty pharmaceuticals to align with IQVIA and other organizations. Specialty pharmaceuticals include those that treat chronic, complex and rare diseases while meeting at least four out of seven criteria related to cost, delivery, distribution and patient care. Information on specialty delivery models, payer/insurance-related issues and the continued emergence of biosimilars also is covered.

“Over the past five years, specialty product sales grew to comprise 43 percent of the total U.S. pharmaceutical market,” said Perry Fri, Executive Vice President of Industry Relations, Membership and Education, HDA; and COO of the HDA Research Foundation. “Our research quantifies the valuable role specialty distributors play, while analyzing the various factors that may lead to more modest segment growth in the coming years.”

Among the data reported in the latest edition:

  • Oncology products accounted for the bulk of specialty distributor sales volume by therapeutic area, though this category experienced a slight decrease to 49.2 percent in 2017 from 50.6 percent in 2016.

  • Distributors reported they expected the autoimmune/immune, central nervous system, inflammatory and ophthalmology therapeutic areas to rise in importance.

  • Each individual surveyed specialty distributor served 28,263 healthcare provider accounts and more than 43,853 unique ship-to points. Independent physician-owned clinics made up most of these ship-to points — more than 18,000 outlets on average.

  • Specialty distributors received more than 4,400 orders daily from their provider customers and picked 7,300 lines per day, with a nearly 99 percent fill rate.

  • Nearly 1 percent of specialty pharmaceutical product units was returned in 2017, with “damaged in transit” or “overstocked product” the most commonly mentioned reasons for returns.

  • Of the survey respondents, 75 percent noted experiencing shortages of more than 11 products over the previous 12 months. These events were communicated to providers via email or Web portal, among other methods.
The 2018 Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution: Facts, Figures and Trends was made possible through the sponsorship of Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group and Value Drug Company (silver sponsors); and Amneal Biosciences, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Inc. (bronze sponsors). The publication is available as 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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