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Latest trends affecting pharmaceutical packaging

New trends in pharma packaging are closely related to developments in emerging markets, demographic changes and new technologies.

Demographic trends

Emerging countries influence the worldwide pharmaceutical market in many aspects. As the population is getting older, densely populated countries such as China and India extend the access to healthcare system to a larger number of people. Generics are on the rise here, as they are more affordable and also due to the expiry of big pharma patents. Populations are aging at an even faster rate in emerging countries than in developed countries.

WHO estimates that between 2010 and 2050, the number of older people in less developed countries is projected to increase more than 250%, compared with a 71% increase in developed countries. As life expectancy improves, healthcare professionals have to deal with increased number of chronic illnesses affecting people at an older age, and are non-communicable, such as dementia, cancer, arthritis. In developed countries, people are affected by illesses resulting from their way of life, such as obesity, diabethes or cardiovascular problems.  They are increasingly being treated by biologics.

Patient-oriented medicine: Biologics in focus

Biologics, such as gene- and cell-based therapies,  are used for illnesses where other treatments are not available. They are different from chemically synthetised drugs with known structure, because biologics are composed of complex molecules or mixture of mollecules. As biologics are manufactured using microorganisms, plant, animal or human cells, their structure is not easily identified. They also tend to be heat sensitive, prone to contamination and their manufacturing process must be closely monitored to ensure the same consistency and quality over time (source: FDA, BIO).

Pharmaceutical industry sees huge potential in biologic drugs which constitute personalized medicine. This could mean that these solutions won’t be delivered to an intermediary (such as pharmacy) but directly to the patient. This could lead to an endless number of shipments, in two directions:

  • Shipments from pharma companies directly to patients
  • Patients shipping biologic materials to pharma companies

Shipment security

Even though air transport is the preferred mode of shipping pharmaceutical products, due to rising airfares, logistics companies increasingly use sea transport and need to ensure stable temperature and humidity conditions for the transported sensitive products, especially biologic drugs. They also have to overcome such obstacles as poor infrastructure in some parts of the world, and comply with existing and new regulations on transport of pharmaceuticals.

Track & trace technologies

Track and trace solutions identify the origins of a pharmaceutical industry product and verify its authenticity, thus fighting against counterfeit pharmaceuticals. In 2013, counterfeit pharmaceuticals generate the most revenue out of all counterfeit products and around 50% of all pharmaceuticals sold online are fake. (Source: PWC).

Shippers must also monitor temperature and humidity with special devices to determine whether the quality of a pharmaceutical product has potentially been compromised.

Temperature can be controlled by using  active (electrical) or passive solutions (temperature-controlled packaging):

Active packaging uses rechargeable batteries and still has an advantage, especially:

  • when crossing multiple climate zones
  • due to stricter regulations globally
  • for medicines high in value such as vaccines and biologicals

However, passive packaging can last nowadays to up to 120h and is suitable for transport to remote or underdeveloped locations with lacking infrastructure.

Check out our passive pharmaceutical transport solutions on our website.

The pharma supply chain is Pharma manufacturers set guidelines for pharma transport, which affect facilities, equipment, means of transport as well as staff who need to be trained.

Connected devices and wearables

A strong trend in the medical device manufacturing concerns connectivity. Drug delivery systems such as injector pens and inhalers. Connected devices have a number of advantages for patients as well as healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Patients are reminded on their smartphone when to take their medicine and they can administer the drug on their own, in the comfort of their home, which helps to improve patient adherence. It also reduces healthcare costs as they don’t need medical supervision.  Pharma manufacturers can use the data during clinical trials, to explore population trends,  and to check on adverse effects. On the other hand connected devices are harder to dispose of, as they must be treated as electronic waste. (Source: Springboard).

Smart dosage systems are regularly featured at pharma innovation awards, such as Pharmapack.

Even though connected drug delivery devices are not yet widespread, there is no doubt they are here to stay, as they can provide valuable data to healthcare professionals about their patients and pharmaceutical companies about their market.

Moving to more sustainable packaging

In 2050, the World Economic Forum estimated that the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight). The trend to fight plastic waste is gaining momentum and companies worldwide are starting to take things seriously. They move away from disposable plastic packaging to more sustainable ones, such as bio-based PET. 

However, in the pharmaceutical industry, where production process, handling, transport, temperature, hygiene and packaging are heavily regulated, the transition towards nature-friendly solutions won’t be that easy. In the UK, the government is planning to introduce a new tax on single-use plastic by 2020 and some professional associations are already asking for medicinal plastics to be excluded, as suitable alternative materials don’t exist at present single-use plastic packaging is many times necessary to ensure safety and efficient delivery of medicine.

Companies can however also reduce waste during production, by becoming more efficient, optimising materials and modernising technologies to avoid using more resources or packaging than necessary.

It is certain that pharmaceutical market will sooner or later adhere to the trend by starting to use alternative materials to single-use plastics, once they are tested and approved. DS Smith is commited to providing sustainable packaging solutions to our pharmaceutical customers. Our approach to sustainability isn’t just at the material selection stage, but throughout the whole supply chain and product life cycle. Discover our sustainability standards on our website.