Editor’s Note: The market for pharmaceuticals is changing. Sensitive biopharmaceuticals require more robust packages. Counterfeiting has to be prevented with special seals and codes, and additional package features are necessary so that patients can safely administer medication themselves. Pharmaceutical companies and the packaging supply chain are faced with huge challenges. The packaging sector currently has a multitude of innovations in store for the pharmaceuticals industry, many of which will be found at interpack 2014, May 8 – 14, 2014 in Düsseldorf, Germany. There, about 1,100 of the roughly 2,700 exhibitors will offer solutions for the pharmaceuticals industry.
When the medicinal products market was still dominated by blockbuster medicines, the pharmaceutical companies had it relatively easy: They developed active substances that could be used to treat a large number of patients and produced medicines against widespread ailments such as high blood pressure and diabetes by the millions in standardized mass processes. Thus, the big multinationals earned billions year after year.
But times are changing. “The market for biopharmaceuticals with selective action and greater potency is growing in importance. Scientists are delving ever deeper into biochemistry and identifying new goals,” explains Klaus Raith of the German Pharmaceuticals Society. Visiongain, the British market research company, confirms this trend. According to its findings, annual sales of biopharmaceuticals are currently experiencing double-digit growth, and a continuing rise is forecast for the next 10 years. This is forcing pharmaceutical companies to adapt. Some biomolecules readily decompose, while others are highly aggressive and attack the surfaces of primary packages. Containers with improved barrier properties and enhanced impact resistance are therefore required in order to reliably protect precious biosubstances. More flexible production processes are also called for, capable of precisely dosing even the tiniest quantities of active substance.
SAFEGUARDING AGAINST COUNTERFEITS
It’s imperative pharmaceutical manufacturers take measures to safeguard medicines better against counterfeiting. Under the new EU Anti-Falsification Directive, virtually all prescription medicines will have to be provided, as of 2017, with a unique code number and a feature showing that the outer package has not been tampered with. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are becoming a growing hazard for patients. According to studies by the World Health Organization, the counterfeiting rate among medicines sold via dubious websites is already 50%. The customs authority puts the share of counterfeits in Europe at 10%. No one is safe from product counterfeiting.
THE PATIENT IS KING
Issues like self-medication and user safety are becoming increasingly important. Injections that only doctors used to give can now be self-administered by patients. To prevent injury, inbuilt safety needles retract immediately after injection.
The packages of the future will be even more versatile. The Finnish-Swedish packaging manufacturer Stora Enso and Göteborg’s Chalmers University of Technology, for example, are developing an intelligent package designed to simplify communication between patients and doctors. The package records precisely when a tablet is removed. If the doctor’s prescription is not observed, the patient receives a wireless reminder — sent to his or her mobile phone, for instance. Such consumer-friendly solutions demand a difficult balancing act from pharmaceutical manufacturers, who have to integrate extra features while also keeping costs under control.
The pressure to cut costs is passed on by the pharmaceuticals industry to the packaging sector. “Today’s requirements in the pharmaceuticals sector are tough — in terms of both innovation and boosting efficiency in the drive to cut costs,” explains Richard Clemens, managing director of the Food Processing and Packaging Machinery Association within the German Engineering Federation (VDMA). Developers are therefore working hard on new packaging solutions and improvements in equipment for the production of medicines. “Pharmaceutical manufacturers need solutions that give them new room for maneuver in production,” says Christina Rettig, spokesperson of glass specialist Schott (Germany). The company ranks among the leading suppliers of primary packages made of glass and has developed special glass vials for biomedicines that have a super-thin lining of silicon dioxide on the inside. In manufacturing, Schott makes use of chemical vapor deposition in which, after the reaction of a precursor gas with oxygen at high temperatures, silicon molecules are deposited on the glass wall. “The silicon layer prevents protein interactions with the package surface and protein adsorption — sensitive biopharmaceuticals thus stay stable,” Rettig explains.