Sunday, July 21, 2024
A new home for life sciences 

A new home for life sciences 

Aiming to firmly make its mark on the pharmaceutical logistics industry and solidify its position as a global hub, Puerto Rico is establishing itself as a premier life sciences air cargo community.  With over 50 years of experience in the life sciences sector, Puerto Rico boasts a thriving ecosystem of pharmaceutical and biomedical device companies, supported by a bilingual and highly educated workforce.

“Puerto Rico has a whole community of pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies, Humberto Mercader, Deputy Secretary for Strategic Initiatives at Departamento de Desarrollo Económico y Comercio, explained. “If we really want to grow and if we really want to take the next step, then logistics should be top of the bill.”

Recognising the need for enhanced logistics capabilities to foster further growth, the community embarked on a mission to elevate Puerto Rico’s status in the field. To achieve this goal, the community sought expertise from international industry leaders, as well as implementing IATA CEIV Pharma certification standards to ensure top-tier quality throughout the supply chain.  

Key requirements 

The initial focus of the Puerto Rico Life Sciences Air Cargo Community has been on cold chain management, specifically addressing temperature-controlled shipping requirements. By elevating the standards of pharmaceutical logistics, the community aims to boost overall workforce education and enhance the efficiency of the entire ecosystem.

“If you improve pharmaceutical logistics, then you also improve everything else, because then the whole workforce will be educated, so there’s a big community effort,” Mercader said.

Challenges, however, lie ahead on the path to achieving full standardisation and operational excellence. The community faces the task of harmonising the different standard operating procedures employed by various airports, pharmaceutical companies, forwarders, integrators, and airlines. By establishing standardised practices, the community aims to improve the quality and reliability of the entire air freight chain, ensuring a seamless flow of life-saving medicines and medical devices.

To overcome these hurdles, the community is actively compiling a comprehensive list of challenges identified by key players within the air freight industry. This list will serve as a roadmap for focused improvements, ranging from operational procedures to infrastructure enhancements. Addressing airport congestion, a joint effort with state authorities will be crucial to ensure smooth and efficient cargo movements.

READ: Over 30 companies unite to support new Puerto Rico Life Sciences Air Cargo Community

Importance underscored 

The COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in catalysing the drive towards establishing the Puerto Rico Life Sciences Air Cargo Community. The global healthcare crisis exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains, emphasising the need for robust and reliable logistics networks.

“I think Covid made everybody realise that things were taken for granted. You saw that the interconnectivity between all these players around the world is very important and everybody realised we don’t know enough about the supply chain,” Mercader explained. “There was a realisation after Covid that we have to invest because it’s more important than we think.”

Furthermore, the pivotal role played by Puerto Rico in manufacturing essential medications during the pandemic underscored the importance of a strong logistics infrastructure to support life-saving operations.

“Medicine was coming out of the island to help with the Covid pandemic, so there was a recognition that we could deliver this to the world by having a community in place,” he continued.

Target markets 

While the United States remains the primary market for Puerto Rico’s life sciences air cargo community, the long-term vision includes expanding direct imports and exports to other nations.

“If Puerto Rico was a US state, it would be the 20th biggest in population and the biggest in terms of life sciences,” Mercader highlighted. “I think the biggest market will be the United States for the coming years but, in the end, there will be direct imports and exports to other nations.”

Currently, the community benefits from domestic flights to major US cities where integrators have established their hubs. This connectivity provides a strong foundation for growth and optimisation, making Puerto Rico an attractive location for pharmaceutical companies.

“I think there’s a feeling that Puerto Rico is a hidden gem,” Jonas Van Stekelenburg, an advisor to the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce, said. “If you turn those domestic flights into international flights, the potential is very big. If you look at the numbers, it’s bigger than people thought.”

READ: New life sciences air cargo logistics community established in Puerto Rico

Raising the bar 

Achieving sustainable, state-of-the-art logistics is a core objective of the community. By fostering collaboration and joint projects, the community seeks to develop standardised operating procedures, advanced track and trace capabilities, and efficient recovery protocols for shipments. The focus is on sharing best practices and leveraging the collective strengths of the industry leaders to raise the bar and establish Puerto Rico as a global exemplar in life sciences logistics.

“Standardisation requires a lot of trust in the community, so it’s easier to do through IATA’s CEIV certification,” said Van Stekelenburg. “Everybody will be trained in the same manner and it will lead to standardisation.”

Looking ahead, the community aims to bring together all major pharmaceutical and medical device companies to align their processes and ensure seamless operations.

“The sector is growing exponentially, so I think in the end it will have see even more life sciences goods and perishable cargo,” Van Stekelenburg said. “The shipments are certainly getting more and more sophisticated.”

While a specific timeline has yet to be defined, the community’s spirit and momentum are already driving progress towards this ambitious goal.

Picture of Edward Hardy

Edward Hardy

Having become a journalist after university, Edward Hardy has been a reporter and editor at some of the world's leading publications and news sites. In 2022, he became Air Cargo Week's Editor. Got news to share? Contact me on


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