Factors That Make Pharma Packaging Innovations A Reality

Companies within the pharma industry are starting to take notice of several exciting innovations. Be it artificial intelligence, blockchain, or automation, all have the ability to enhance the efficiency of the pharmaceutical packaging process and improve the tracking of finished units.

AI is currently being studied as a potential tool to accelerate the process of drug discovery and development while also decreasing the likelihood of delays or project failures.1

Furthermore, automation solutions are being utilised in the drug packaging and manufacturing processes to enhance efficiency. Blockchain technology holds great potential for improving the traceability of individual drug doses, thereby reducing the chances of counterfeit products breaching the supply chain.

In addition, the industry is experiencing a renewed emphasis on sustainability, which has led to significant changes in the sector. Companies are now exploring new packaging and filling processes with the goal of minimising the environmental impact of the segment.

However, companies face difficulties in seamlessly integrating all these advances into their packaging operations. They must overcome these challenges so as to fully harness the benefits.

What is the motivation behind the urge to innovate and use new solutions?

There are several trends that are driving innovation in the pharmaceutical industry, prompting the adoption of new technologies in the manufacturing and packaging processes.

Some key trends

– Personalised medicines and cell and gene therapies- CGTs have led to an increased need for smaller batch sizes and greater flexibility when it comes to manufacturing capacity. Manufacturing efficiency difficulties will need to be tackled due to the nature of tailored medicines and CGTs. Production lines will need to adjust in order to cope with smaller, specialised production runs.

This implies that there will be an appetite for intelligent packaging processes that can fit various packaging formats. There may be a growing popularity in the usage of single-use vials or pre-filled syringes that can meet smaller volumes of medication, along with a wider range of doses and formulations. Given the increased production costs associated with personalised therapeutics and CGTs as opposed to traditional treatments, it becomes crucial to protect and preserve the integrity of these medications. This can be done by the use of protective measures such as tamper-evident packaging or specialised temperature-controlled solutions, like RFID chips. To be able to deliver tailored treatments directly to the patient, evading the clinic or hospital setting, it is vital to make sure that the packaging effectively protects the treatments from any kind of negative effects caused by various environmental elements.

The advent of personalised medicines will have a significant impact on labelling and patient education materials, which will necessitate the inclusion of dosage and formulation data that is unique to each individual patient. The delivery of complex information to ageing patient populations will also need to be made more accessible. Multilingual delivery of materials will be necessary, using various media formats. This will involve utilising smart barcode tools or creating digitally created hard-copy booklets containing detailed information about the patient’s specific treatment plan.

– The rising costs of energy, raw materials, and manufacturing components have prompted pharmaceutical companies to seek innovative solutions in order to optimise efficacy and cut manufacturing expenses. This entails not only exploring alternative sources for essential suppliers but also reconsidering their operations and upkeep processes with the goal of discovering more efficient methods of manufacturing their final products.

– Compliance with serialisation legislation is becoming more important as regulations become stricter. The U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act- DSCSA is set to be implemented in November 2023, and it will significantly impact packaging and labelling logistics. Pharmaceutical companies that intend to ship drugs to the U.S. will face stricter serialisation requirements under the new regulation.

Starting this year, companies as well as their contract packaging organisation partners must ensure that products have compatible and technological tracing capabilities at the package, case, and pallet level.

 -Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the pharmaceutical industry. Governments worldwide are implementing strict new regulations to tackle the climate emergency. These regulations require companies to actively reduce their carbon emissions and minimise waste.

Traditionally, the pharmaceutical industry has faced challenges, especially in the packaging sector. Implementing new packaging solutions that are both functional and environmentally friendly, such as recyclable or biodegradable options, remains a challenging task. Before being approved, all new formats and materials must undergo rigorous testing to ensure compatibility with drug products and meet regulatory requirements.

It is imperative for pharmaceutical companies to reevaluate their strategies in the upcoming years. They should transition towards utilising packaging materials that are more environmentally friendly, with the aim of minimising their carbon footprint.

Future being shaped by various innovations

It is essential for the pharmaceutical industry and its packaging partners to seek innovative solutions that can adapt to the evolving market landscape and ensure long-term success. There are several advanced technologies that have the potential to help companies achieve their goals. However, these technologies also come with difficulties that need to be addressed in order to effectively utilise them:

– Automation has the ability to greatly improve line flexibility. With the increasing demand for personalised treatments and new therapies that have smaller and more complex batch requirements, automation can provide several benefits. It has the potential to enhance flexibility, ensure reliable processes, and improve traceability.

Minimising manual interaction with products and packaging can help prevent human errors and reduce waste. Automation can play a crucial role in maintaining the necessary level of sterilisation for products like parenterals and ophthalmics, in which sterility is of utmost importance.

Automated systems go on to provide an exciting opportunity to improve supply chain management for packaged drug products through improved track-and-trace capabilities. Tracking and monitoring inventory in storage and during transport can significantly reduce waste, boost efficiency, and effectively prevent the entry of imitation drugs into the supply chain.

However, the implementation of new automation technology often necessitates a substantial financial investment, which can pose a barrier for certain companies. This is especially true when people are unable to find equipment that provides the flexibility, they need for producing smaller batches. Also, certain packaging processes may present challenges when it comes to automation.

The integration of new automation tech into present packaging lines can pose a challenge, as it requires retraining line operatives to effectively operate and maintain the new equipment.

– AI has the potential to optimise manufacturing and packaging efficiency. Currently, AI is being utilised in drug discovery projects to analyse large amounts of data and detect potential drug targets. However, its application can extend to turning manufacturing and packaging processes as well. On production lines, AI has the potential to enable operational predictive maintenance. Implementing this approach can effectively reduce downtime and significantly enhance productivity.

AI can play a crucial role in enhancing inventory management for finished drug products. It has the capability to recognise potential areas for improvement and accurately forecast the required stock levels. AI may be used as well on packaging lines to identify packaging defects, such as those caused by product leakage and contamination. These defects not only end up in waste but also have the potential to risk the safety of patients. Deep learning AI models provide a more comprehensive inspection capability when compared to conventional image processing techniques. They have the ability to learn and adjust to varying environmental conditions, including changes in lighting intensity.

– Blockchain technology has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of serialisation. By utilising an approach to storing information that minimises the risk of system tampering, hacking, or manipulation, blockchain can significantly improve the efficiency of implementing serialisation. While it is not currently mandated by U.S. law or regulations in other markets, utilising it can enhance the security and accuracy of product monitoring.

Blockchain has the ability to address weaknesses in the global supply chain, enhance collaboration between companies, mitigate fraud, and ensure the authenticity of products.

A supply chain guided by blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) technology has the potential to record the real-time temperature and location of individual drug packs. This can be achieved by making use of wireless sensors as well as GPS devices attached to the packages. The label of the medicine includes unique serial numbers provided by the manufacturer. Consumers can scan these numbers when buying the medicine to access all the relevant information. The manufacturer, pharmacy warehouse, along with individual pharmacy can all have access to comprehensive, trustworthy, and secure information regarding the source and efficacy of drugs enrolled on the blockchain.

However, in order to harness the advantages of blockchain technology, companies need to make investments in hardware, software, and connectivity solutions that enable them to efficiently track their products from their origin to the end consumer.

– New product packages have the potential to turn the vision of a circular pharmaceutical economy into a tangible reality. In today’s pharmaceutical industry, sustainability can seem like a complex topic. However, there have been advancements that could make the idea of a circular economy more achievable. This means that certain materials used in the pharmaceutical sector can be reused and recycled, bringing one closer to a more sustainable future. For instance, it is possible to design drug containers and packaging in a way that promotes reuse or recycling. Additionally, the waste generated during drug production can be recycled or used again.

The importance of expert support

While new technologies hold promise for improving efficiency and flexibility for companies in the future, implementing them can also present challenges that may impede their adoption. If these challenges are not addressed, companies may find themselves falling behind their competitors.

In order to address these difficulties, especially those pertaining to the integration of novel tech into packaging processes, it is crucial to seek assistance from specialised Chief Procurement Officers.

CPOs are in a prime position to assist the industry in leveraging the potential of emerging technologies to improve packaging productivity. Not only do they have specialised packaging infrastructure already installed and ready to use, but they also have professionals who are actively exploring efficient ways of integrating new technologies into their processes. Additionally, they possess the necessary resources to invest in early innovations like AI or blockchain, should they determine that their clients can derive value from them.

Furthermore, Chief Packaging Officers (CPOs) possess extensive expertise in understanding the packaging requirements for various types of dosage forms. They also have a deep understanding of the legislative landscape in multiple important markets. Pharmaceutical companies can benefit from the flexibility and capacity offered by these supply chain roles, as they are able to develop customised services that add significant value.

Going forward

The pharmaceutical industry is currently experiencing rapid evolution. Pharmaceutical companies face a range of new challenges that they must conquer in order to succeed. These challenges include changing market demands, rising costs, and increasingly stringent regulation.

Cutting-edge technologies have the potential to provide solutions for these issues, especially during the packaging stage. However, their efficacy relies on companies being able to utilise and include them in their operations efficiently. Collaborating with expert packaging partners can assist companies in achieving this goal by offering them with the necessary knowledge, facilities, and tools to stay ahead. This collaboration enables companies to continue delivering vital therapies to patients.