Skip to Content

What is the true cost of a lost clinical trial shipment?

Elizabeth Gallagher

By: Elizabeth Gallagher September 20 2018

Tags: Logistics for Clinical Trials, Regulatory Import Export, Importer Of Record, Transportation

True Cost of Lost Shipment

I’ve been having some interesting conversations with various parties across the supply chain about the true cost of a lost shipment. Some couriers claim an on-time delivery of 98% or above (depending on how you measure). However, my question is this: What is the true cost of the lost 2% of shipments?

For instance, let’s assume a trial protocol requires 10 visits and 2% of all visits require rescheduling due to lost shipments. Quick calculations will prompt you to take extreme care when choosing your logistics provider. For a 2,000 patient, phase-3 trial calling for 20,000 visits, if you choose a courier with a 98% delivery rate, chances are 400 of your required visits will not happen as scheduled due to late shipments. Say the cost of each visit is $1,000. That’s an immediate loss of $400,000.

No doubt your patient(s) will get tired of turning up to find that there is no medication for him/her. You could lose a number of patients over the course of the trial. We are all aware of the challenges CROs face in recruiting patients and in retaining them, so make it a little easier for them. Ensure they receive the medication on time. Otherwise, your trial could be compromised.

Here are a few things you should consider in choosing a logistics provider:

  • What are the timelines of the study?
    Ensure your provider is financially viable and able to stay the course.

  • What countries are you targeting?
    Make sure your provider has in-country service that can complete final mile delivery.

  • Do these countries present infrastructure challenges?
    If the ports of entry do not have temperature controlled facilities your provider must proactively intervene to ensure product stability through customs clearance.

  • Are there regulatory hurdles to overcome in getting supplies through customs?
    A local, in-country presence can monitor changing regulatory environments while also establishing a positive track record with customs officials.

  • Are your clinical supplies temperature sensitive?
    Your provider will need to recommend appropriate shippers and monitors to give you the assurance product integrity is not compromised.

  • What additional services do you need with this courier that could delay shipments, i.e. other than just transport? Import/export support; Customs clearance support; Storage requirements; Appointment delivery; Cash to pay duty and tax.
    Does your provider have the ability to act as Importer of Record, and do they have the financial strength to pay duty and tax on your behalf (prior to reimbursement).

  • What is the courier’s track record for providing these services and delivering clinical supplies to investigator sites in these regions?
    Every region and country has its unique challenges. Never assume a single provider can do it all on their own.

  • Can you audit actual performance over a period of time?
    Completing a single shipment to a remote location is not a good measure for assuming future success. Make sure there is a demonstrated track record of delivering on-time, in-full, and at temperature.

Remember, although 2% sounds irrelevant, the impact on your clinical trial could be quite significant. What is your acceptable risk tolerance level is when selecting a logistics provider?


As part of Fisher Clinical Services Total Transportation Management service offering, our logistics specialists are able to conduct a detailed analysis of all shipments to identify opportunities for improvement. Using this service, a biotech company was able to reduce their use of premium couriers to only 6% of their shipments, yielding significant costs savings.
Download Case Study:

How to Select the Best Courier Around the Globe


Elizabeth Gallagher