Pharmaceuticals packaging: safety across the board

Rising life expectancy, the increase in chronic diseases and the introduction of new and often very expensive forms of treatment have been responsible for strong growth in the last few years. More and more diseases are becoming treatable. Even for rare disorders with relatively small numbers of cases, more and more medicines are being developed for which manufacturers are called upon to achieve greater complexity with ever smaller batch sizes. There is a trend away from standardisation and towards individualised treatment. For plant manufacturers and packaging system suppliers, the high flexibility and rapid retooling already demanded in the market is thus intensifying further.

Growth in the pharmaceuticals sector is being offset by cost reductions in the health systems in many countries with price ceilings, mandatory discounts, and benefit-based pricing or reimbursement models. There is also an increase worldwide in regulatory requirements imposed by supervisory authorities. For medicine manufacturers and packagers, this places still higher demands on the process chain as a whole.

Innovation in packaging design
New, innovative packaging concepts are being developed despite or precisely because of the competition from generic drugs. The introduction of the new Aspirin generation in 2014, when the Bayer Group decided to develop its classic packaging further, is an example of the most recent past. Few medicines can look back on such a long tradition – this well-known painkiller has been holding its own in the marketplace for over 115 years now. In cooperation with the Romaco Group, it has developed a new packaging technology that is adapted to consumers’ changing needs. For this, the tablets are individually sealed and perforated – in the shape of a four-leafed clover. The pouches concerned consist of an aluminium/paper laminate protecting the individual tablets effectively from such external influences as light and moisture. In the design, importance has been attached to easy access – an argument that is becoming increasingly compelling in view of the growing elderly proportion of the population in the industrialised nations.

Smart packaging
The fact that patient leaflets in a medicine package do not always have to be in printed form is illustrated by the latest further developments in packaging technology, now made possible for the first time by near-field communication (NFC). Facilitating cashless payment and keyless vehicle entry, NFC is already familiar in everyday life. Thanks to widespread smartphone use, contactless and wireless short-distance data exchange has also become of interest to the packaging sector. The possible applications range from reading-out the patient leaflet and the automatic re-ordering of drugs through to more detailed information.

Top priority for patient safety
Another global challenge for the sector is the problem of product piracy. The worldwide trade in counterfeit medicines is a multi-million business that causes considerable loss for the pharmaceuticals industry and, more importantly, puts the health of numerous people at risk. A joint goal of the packaging and pharmaceuticals industry must therefore be to prevent the distribution of counterfeit medicines.
Stricter guidelines and better product identification are essential for the protection of the patient. In many countries, these are already being implemented or are on the brink of being so. An example is the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/161 of the European Union with binding provisions against the entry of falsified medicines into the legal supply chain. It states that all prescription medicines must be provided with unique identifiers and an anti-tampering device.

Emotional appeal at the POS
Pharmaceuticals packages have to perform numerous tasks. They have to not only meet the complex needs and constraints of technology and safety, but also win through at the point of sale against a host of competing products. This applies particularly to over-the-counter medicines, although the competitive pressure among prescription drugs has risen significantly due to the increase in generics. Design and brand presentation make the difference here. Much like other consumer packages, the medicine package must also appeal directly to consumers, stimulate their emotions and precisely meet their needs. For brand recognition, package suppliers use consistent designs that present all the products of a manufacturer as a uniform block on the product shelf and thus stand out from the various competition items. The purchaser’s attention is held by plain language, unambiguous navigation with the aid of the design, and text arrangements without off-putting pharmaceutical jargon.

In the last few years, the drugs packaging industry has successfully accepted the various challenges in the pharmaceuticals sector and devised suitable strategies for this highly specialised business. Thanks to its huge capacity for innovation, the supply industry to the former “pharmacy of the world” is also well equipped for the future.