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HDA Research Foundation Quantifies Efficiencies Provided by Specialty Rx Distributors

December 10, 2020

ARLINGTON, Va. — New data released today by the HDA Research Foundation illustrate the continued supply chain efficiencies generated by HDA-member specialty distributors. According to the latest edition of Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution: Facts, Figures and Trends, specialty distributors are a vital nexus between 176 manufacturers and more than 49,000 provider ship-to points for administration or dispensing to patients.

Independent physician-owned and -operated clinics comprised the largest customer segment (roughly 18,000), followed by hospitals, retail pharmacies and finally, specialty pharmacies. As in previous years, oncology products accounted for the highest shipping volume, at 52 percent of specialty distributors’ weighted average sales, followed by products in the inflammatory/autoimmune, supportive care, ophthalmology and hemophilia/bleeding disorder categories.

“Specialty pharmaceuticals, which treat chronic, complex and rare diseases, typically require supply chain capabilities beyond ‘traditional distribution,’ including unique storage, handling and transportation considerations, among other characteristics,” said Perry Fri, Executive Vice President and COO of the HDA Research Foundation. “As the latest edition of Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution shows, distributors offer logistics expertise and a range of core and value-added services that ultimately lead to a safe, effective and resilient supply chain for patients.”

Now in its 12th edition, the benchmarking publication sheds light into this unique and growing marketplace. According to IQVIA, the specialty pharmaceutical market reached $426 billion in 2019, driving overall pharmaceutical growth. Primary data, which do not reflect the COVID-19 response, are collected through a survey of HDA specialty distributors with annual sales greater than $1 billion for fiscal year 2019. Further, survey respondents distribute nationally and have combined average gross specialty sales of $23 billion. Secondary data also are included from governmental and healthcare organizations.

Among the performance metrics reported for 2019:

  • On average, specialty distributors receive more than 4,500 orders daily. Each distribution center typically picked nearly 7,300 lines daily, with an average of 2.8 lines per order.
  • Distributors achieved a 98.8 percent order fill rate on average and delivered 1.4 days after receiving an order. The typical turnaround time from courier pickup to delivery to the dispenser was 18.3 hours.
  • A majority of distributors (75 percent) reported using temperature-monitoring devices to track shipments of specialty pharmaceuticals at various points in the supply chain. The same amount believe that overall cold chain compliance and temperature monitoring are becoming increasingly important.
  • Approximately 1.2 percent of specialty products (an average value of about $55 million) were returned.
  • Specialty distributors offered professional services to support the use of these products, including third-party logistics services, customer call centers, medication pre-authorizations and reimbursement services/consulting, among others.

Beyond the survey findings, the publication provides information on specialty distribution models, insurance coverage trends and payer dynamics as well as an expanded chapter on biosimilar products.

The 2020 edition of Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution: Facts, Figures and Trends is available as a complimentary download. The publication was made possible by gold sponsors Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group, and Value Drug Company; silver sponsors Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Inc.; and bronze sponsors Pharmacy First and Reliance Wholesale Inc.


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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