In the pharmaceutical area, packaging is very important, and it is becoming an integral part of new drug development. Traceability, new materials, formats and ergonomics are the focuses for improving packaging. Traceability is critical for the safety and service provided to patients.
Packaging accounts for approximately 38% of our production purchases. We are therefore permanently working on optimizing it as we regard it as a competitive advantage that brings value-added to the product’s marketing mix. We are therefore working closely with our franchises (urology-oncology, neurology and endocrinology) on new packaging concepts, both primary (for example, pre-filled syringes) and secondary.
For specialty care products, the ‘device’ is more and more often considered an integral part of the drug. It becomes essential in terms of quality of life for the patient: the objective is to offer ready-to-use formats, as user-friendly as possible with a maximum level of safety. The preliminary meetings between the marketing department, designers and manufacturing is therefore more and more meaningful in order to integrate very early requirements from the market and from patients in terms of efficiency and ease of use, but also of manufacturing costs.
Choosing compatible materials and adapting formats
When choosing materials, we are limited by their compatibility with our products. High quality glass remains our reference material, although it is very fragile.
Manufacturers have besides considerably improved glass, particularly with the development of different forms and more accurate molding.
We also use plastic (less fragile and lighter), for example on our pre-filled Somatuline Autogel syringe.
As regards conventional products (such as capsules and pills), we traditionally use PVC blisters or aluminum-based packs so as to keep moisture out.
Patient consumer habits differ noticeably between countries, depending on their living standards. This in turn impacts packaging size. Where in France a standard Smecta box contains 30 to 60 doses, we may market 10-dose packaging (and get closer to the unit dose form) in other countries in order to decrease the purchase price and adapt it to local market requirements.
Sustainable development, a major issue
As regards sustainable development, we find the PSCI (Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative) approach very interesting. At Ipsen, all our calls for tender for choosing our suppliers systematically include questions relating to ethics, environment, safety and health. These are now essential selection criteria.
Lastly, as regards preventing waste, the issue is to rationalize packaging size by making sure that it doesn’t contain an excess of air; in other words, reducing the packaging size to what is strictly necessary, obviously without impacting product quality.
Rolling out Datamatrix
Traceability is another important development focus. Unit dose traceability, such as vials, through the new Datamatrix-type coding system has been rolled out on all our facilities in order to meet French legal requirements. The progress towards unit dose traceability (serialization) is planned to meet the requirements of the European directive against counterfeit drugs. The globalization of distribution methods, particularly on the Internet, involves having an efficient traceability system in order to maximize safety for patients.
This implies significant developments at the level of packaging, production lines, information systems, production methods and processes. We must define the Group’s common standard solution that we will implement on all our packaging lines.
Tracking and tracing is currently carried out per batch with a bar code system and easy-to-copy batch numbers.
The new Datamatrix systems allows unit traceability on tertiary (crate or pallet) or secondary (case, box) packaging, and also, as some countries are requesting, at the level of primary packaging (vial, blister). This makes it possible to customize the product that is distributed to the patient. If a doubt or a problem is brought up, it is easy to trace information on the vial or the box, which increases the level of safety but also the reliability and accuracy of information.
These systems are also capable of coding much more data than the traditional bar code system.
Moving towards smart drugs
Smartphone also opens up promising prospects with simple applications that for example allow a patient to check the dosage, the origin of the product, its purpose, its expiry date, etc., or also vocal systems that help visually impaired users. Smart packaging also connects consuming the drug to databases.
For example, if you suffer from diabetes, the IT system can make dosage recommendations depending on your blood sugar level.
If a patient is undergoing background therapy, one could easily imagine that he enters data regarding his medication in his smartphone, which would feed a database to which his doctor has access. The latter could remotely check his patient’s condition and give him recommendations.
We would get to a more personalized, interactive, reactive treatment where you would no longer need to wait for your quarterly visit to the practitioner for a review.
Constantly evolving traceability
Cold chain management could also benefit from the new technology. A monitoring device integrated in each packaging is quite conceivable. Upon reading the code, for example when purchasing at the pharmacy, it would be possible to check, one vial at a time, whether the cold chain instructions have been respected.
The pharmaceutical industry has always been in the lead as far as traceability is concerned. Technological innovations make it possible to consider ever more efficient solutions and to go further in tracing a drug during its entire lifetime.
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