Within the pharmaceutical industry, packaging for medicinal products is a lucrative business. According to a recent report, pharmaceutical packaging will be worth $94.93 billion by 2021, indicating the grand scale of the market.

Recently, CTA’s Henry Kerali sat down with Andrew Streeter, packaging innovation director, GlobalData. With a wealth of experience working in the packaging industry, Streeter is well placed to ascertain emerging trends within the market and its overall impact.

In this wide-ranging interview, Streeter discusses pharma’s use of intelligent packaging, shedding a light on the issues and opportunities that lie in wait with for the industry.

Clinical Trials Arena: Within the context of packaging, what would you say are some of the unique challenges facing the industry, to the best of your knowledge?

Andrew Streeter: One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is patient non-compliance of drug administration, which is very high, and a serious issue. Smart packaging can address some of these problems in a variety of different ways. In addition there are mechanical approaches that ought not to be dismissed, such as explicitly putting the day of the week on the blister pack, which is a useful prompt. We should never lose sight of simplicity when considering packaging, smart or otherwise.

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CTA: What are some of the latest innovations in smart packaging, and how can they mitigate the issues surrounding noncompliance?

AS: Currently, there exist small on-pack devices with electrical functions or chemical reactions that can be attached to a pack that can transmit information such as reminders to a patient to take a medicine. Such technology lends itself very well to this market, and the hope within the industry is that these devices, once unit cost targets are achieved, will ensure high levels of compliance and possibly lead the patient down a better path of self-discipline.

CTA: How do you see the industry taking advantage of smart packaging? Which pharma companies are currently leading the way?

AS: AstraZeneca is a company that is pro-active with pharma packaging, but as for the industry per se taking advantage, it’s important to see it in context. One factor is unit cost, and secondly there are a large number of approaches that tackle different issues within the remit of smart or intelligent packaging – it covers a huge umbrella of activity, I sense the need for rationalization to come through on the options available.

The unit cost issue is one for the industries that produce these devices and facilities, currently they need to get into the market through high value goods to get there economics right. And like everything in packaging, successful packaging is high volume and low margin. Smart packaging is not yet in that position. New drugs when they’re licensed and come to market are in a notionally adoptive position, there’s a need, it is a natural home for smart packaging, and those two commercial forces do come into play. At this juncture we should not forget that smart packaging has interest in anti-counterfeiting, and has a strong role to play there. On the face of it smart or intelligent packaging should be in a strong position to support pharma in several ways.

CTA: What are the noticeable trends emerging in pharma packaging?

AS: There have been general improvements in the way blister packs perform, perform in friendliness with the patient but I think we have to be careful and separate between prescription-only drugs and over-the-counter medicines. Importantly self-medication generally appears to be increasing through the vehicle or facilities of packaging, and that in a sense is a silent trend.

When you look beyond pharma, it’s the smaller sized, easy to dispense packaging that’sstarting to find its way into the clinical and commercial supply chain. These packs are becoming more user-friendly and intuitive to use.

CTA: Are there new innovations on the rise that have the potential to change the game?

AS: On the horizon are inks with an electrical function. This is a particularly important development because it reduces cost. While you have to print the packages anyway, here you’re using the ink for two functions: one is to do the communication function that it has always done over time, and secondly to provide a smart function where the inks can be manipulated or react to electrical currents. This is a step change away from separated devices, like tags, where the cost is more significant because it’s made separately from the package itself.

Although inks with electrical functions have been around for a long time, they’re still to reach a commercialized cost-effective state. However, I do believe in five years that will change because the science is there, butit is getting the unit cost price down to a commercially acceptable level that is the challenge.

CTA: In your opinion, what do you think the future holds for smart packaging?

AS: I judge we’ve reached a point now where it’s not a question of if the industry will use smart packaging it’s a question of when.The patient compliance issue is so important that it has to be addressed. You know a lot of the discussion within the packaging community, especially in brand owners, has been about how packaging can be made more consumer-friendly, prompt occasion and fit in with usage needs. The pharma industry could do well to consider the wider opportunities packaging can offer and realign its thinking away from just containment and protection into usage occasions and getting closer to the patient in terms of patient delivery.

One big hurdle is on tablet medicine and the dispensing of tablets at a prescribed time. While smart packaging is seen as revolutionary – which in one sense, it is – if you look at the way packaging develops, it’s often evolutionary. Self-medication happens quietly, and going forward the pharma industry will tread carefully in small incremental steps, rather than make the big jump. This is because they have to take the patient with them, and that’s where another challenge lies.

Going forward, I’ll be looking for industry developments on two fronts: one is the use of inks with electrical functions because you can facilitate a lot of information and interaction that way, and the second would be self-medication.Successful smart packaging is often viewed as informing, but I argue it needs to do more than that and go beyond informing and into application. When it gets into application then it actually ‘delivers the goods’, and in many different ways.