Trends in Pharma Packaging
The pharma packaging industry, though mature, is undergoing a sea of change. The progress of this industry is tied to innovations. Evolving consumer needs, novel medicines, advancing technology, increasing cost pressure, stringent regulations, etc., are driving innovation in pharma packaging. These factors, along with numerous others, are playing a vital role in enhancing packaging functionality. Apart from innovations, the importance of design has also moved up the curve for industry players. In this article, we examine the key trends likely to shape the pharma packaging industry landscape in 2015.
“As the pharmaceutical industry presses toward more personalized, sensitive, and potent drugs, the importance of packaging becomes even more crucial.” –Christopher Cassidy, VP (Sales & Marketing) – Pharmaceutical Packaging, Schott (July 2014)
- Serialization and Anticounterfeiting Packaging: In our January 2014 blog post, “The World of Pharma in 2014 – Serialization, Regulations, and Rising API Costs”, we talked about the widespread prevalence of counterfeit drugs, especially in pharmerging markets, and the various regulations being adopted by governments to check their infiltration. India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) mandates the use of unique numbers and bar codes on primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging for easy tracking and tracing, a practice known as serialization, of all drugs exported from the country. The mandate, which came into force in January 2011, was supposed to be fully implemented by mid-2013. However, due to noncompliance, the deadline has been extended to April 2015. The California ePedigree Law, which requires pharma manufacturers and distributors to implement serialization, will likely come into effect from January 2015.
Pharma companies globally have changed/are changing their packaging process to adapt to these regulations. Pfizer is implementing serialization, more aggressively since 2012, for its entire packaging lines and helping suppliers do the same. Daiichi Sankyo is also speeding up implementation to meet the January 2015 deadline in the US.
“Within Pfizer, there are some near-term goals we need to work toward. We are moving forward with the development of our IT enterprise solutions and are reassessing the effect of the new law on our packaging lines’ serialization plans.”– Peggy Staver, Director – Product Integrity, Pfizer (March 2014)
“A wait-and-see approach will not leave us much time to implement a proper solution. Daiichi is assessing requirements and identifying options now.” –Stephen Kovary, Senior Director – Technical Operations, Daiichi Sankyo (March 2014)
“Making changes and adding new or unique elements, such as serialization, will certainly raise production costs in any environment.” – Ryan O’Dell, Chief Marketing Officer, Safecor Health (March 2012)
In addition, various technologies, such as RFIDs, tamper-evident packs, holograms, labels, and special inks, can be used to combat counterfeit medicines. In August 2014, researchers at the University of Michigan and in South Korea developed a special thin film with seemingly invisible images. These pictures are revealed when they come in contact with human breath.
Although beneficial, these changes require significant spending by drug manufacturers. The question is—how will industry players employ serialization and benefit from it?
- Automation by Contract Packagers: With the introduction of stringent anticounterfeiting regulations and implementation of serialization, pharma packaging requirements have become more complicated. As a result, pharma companies are increasingly automating packaging lines. In May 2014, Pfizer started using an automatic, nondestructive blister pack testing device. The device is likely to reduce the inspection cost leading to an overall cost reduction, which is typically the motive behind any kind of automation.
“The integration of robotics is changing the industry, allowing flexibilities, as well as feeding and connecting, at a rate that was not previously possible.” – Fabio Trippodo, President, MG America (March 2014)
“We are seeing more and more requests to integrate robotics into packaging lines with or without track-and-trace capabilities.” – Kim Norris, Sales Project Coordinator, ESS Technologies (March 2014)
- Senior-friendly and Child-resistant Packaging: With increasing share of the elderly in the world population, pharma and packaging companies are focusing on senior-friendly (SF) packaging globally. Recently, companies have launched a host of SF containers and packs. In November 2014, Colbert Packaging launched MedLock EZT, a patient-compliant packaging solution that is senior friendly and child resistant. It uses a locking mechanism (patent pending) that is difficult for children to open and easy for adults. According to a December 2013 report titled “World Population Ageing 2013”, the global share of older people (aged >60) will increase 10% during 2013–2050, further increasing the need for SF packaging.
Along with SF packaging, focus on child-resistant (CR) packaging has also increased. Many companies have launched CR packs over the past couple of months. In October 2014, Romaco and Ecobliss introduced Locked4Kids, a CR carton box explicitly designed to pack drugs. The carton contains special blister trays, with small hooks diagonal to one another, which lock when pushed in. In order to remove the tray, both hooks have to be released simultaneously, which is a daunting task for kids.
Further, with new regulations being introduced, the trend is likely to intensify in the coming years.
“By June 2015, when the new, pan-European Classification, Labeling, and Packaging of Chemical Substances Regulations, known as the CLP, come into effect, more products will need to be packed in child-resistant containers.” –Stephen Wilkins, CEO, Child Safe Packaging Group (June 2014)
“It is mandatory for pharma companies to follow scientific packaging methods. In addition to branding, packaging should address product needs, patient convenience, and product security. Of late, regulators are stressing on child-resistant and user-friendly packaging.” – Chakravarthi AVPS, MD, Ecobliss India (November 2014)
- Eco-friendly Packaging: Although eco-friendly and sustainable packaging seems to be losing sway, their importance does not wane. With the ever-increasing environmental concerns, drug manufacturers and packaging companies are constantly focusing on eco-friendly packaging materials, techniques, and technologies. Pfizer is constantly working to reduce its carbon footprint by increasing recycling of packaging materials and reducing the amount of virgin materials used in packaging. Another example is of Eco Lips, a US-based lip care products manufacturer, which introduced its new organic lip balms in biodegradable, compostable paper tubes in February 2014.
“The new Eco Tube will hopefully be the beginning of a shift into sustainable packaging for the entire lip balm category.” – Steve Shriver, CEO, Eco Lips (February 2014)
“The global flexible packaging industry is currently witnessing an increasing need for sustainable and eco-friendly packaging, driven by food, beverage, personal care products, and pharmaceutical industries.” – Ashok Chaturvedi, Chairman and MD, Uflex (January 2014)
- Talking Packaging: This is a technology that enables products to speak for themselves. With the growing need for convenience among consumers, the prevalence of talking packaging (e.g., Rondo Pak’s multimedia carton launched in September 2014) in the pharma and food industries is rising. The carton can be equipped with an HD video screen, which can be used to impart usage instructions to consumers, and for various other applications. NFC-enabled packaging, developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in January 2012, for the visually impaired is also a variant of talking packaging. When a code comes in contact with an NFC-enabled device, a user can download the product and dosage information, which can be played back using a phone or computer.
Despite the increasing cost pressure, companies prefer “talking packs” to sway consumers, who easily get attracted by fancy, technology-driven products.
Over the past decade, wellness foods, such as juices and protein bars, have recorded tremendous growth. As a result, the pharma (especially the OTC segment) and food industries have converged to form pharmafoods—a somewhat novel industry. The line of difference—in various aspects (including packaging)—between the industries has been diluted, with both facing similar challenges. While the pharma industry battles counterfeit medicines, the food industry is faced with safety issues—evident from the “horsemeat scandal” in 2013. In our September 2014 blog post, “The Food Industry Supply Chain: Thoughts on Supplier Quality”, we discussed safety issues in the food industry. Amid increasing regulations and company initiatives to combat counterfeit medicines, should food retailers and food industry regulators follow the stead of their counterparts in the pharma industry?