Specifying the best material to serve the primary packaging requirements for a given pharmaceutical used to be pretty easy, considering there was virtually only one champion to call on: Glass. Glass was Pharma’s packaging Superman, a hero with well known virtues; strength, purity and transparency. For millennia there were few materials out there that could rival glass’s dominance and reputation.
Glass as a material has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until about the 1st century BC, that glass blowing was discovered in the Middle East. This advancement created the industry. Glass vessels could now be mass produced, and more economically than pottery vessels.
And the rest is history as they say. During the ensuing millennia, glass as a packaging material came to dominate the world’s food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries; there simply were few or no alternatives. That is, until scientists started uncovering the attributes of organic polymers found first in naturally occurring substances like gum and shellac, then later developing chemically modified materials like galvanized rubber and nitrocellulose. By 1900 the first synthetic plastic Bakelite was developed by Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland. Advances came quickly after that with the likes of BASF, ICI and Dow bringing commercial/industrial ready polymers to market beginning in the ’20s.
As we reach the midpoint of this century’s second decade, material scientists continue to hyper-refine plastics and glass to enhance positive attributes and mitigate less-than-desired attributes relative to Pharma application and commercial/industrial scale economies. The market for pharmaceutical packaging has become immense and is showing no signs of slowing down; leading market research firms predict demand in the U.S. will grow about 5 percent a year and reach ~ $22 billion by 2018, representing about a third of the global market which Freedonia Group pegs at $66 billion by 2017 and growing at 6.4 percent annually.
Indeed, glass and plastic have become Pharma packaging’s superheroes — both working tirelessly to safely deliver medicines to a world plagued by evil-doing disease. But as our heroes pursue this common cause, packaging’s dynamic duo have also become super rivals. However, as far as superhero-to-superhero conflicts are concerned, this one only goes so deep. Suppliers and users understand that any packaging decision is led by the formulation of the drug and ultimately patient safety.
GLASS, THE PROVEN DEFENDER
SCHOTT Pharmaceutical Packaging, the industry’s leading glass supplier, says it delivers 9 billion containers per year and that includes ampoules, vials, cartridges and both glass and polymer syringes. “We are working in the pharma industry, so we abide with all regulations,” says Anil Busimi, head of global product management syringe business at SCHOTT, “which our customers — like the Pharma companies — have to ensure that their products are produced as per specifications and GMP. We fulfill all the regulatory requirements.” At the same time, says Busimi, SCHOTT ensures Pharma quality standards are met by its suppliers. “SCHOTT is a major producer of glass tubing, [a pre-fabrication form] which is used for [Pharma’s] primary packaging containers.