When the Pharmapack Europe exhibition started out 20 years ago, pharmaceutical packaging was just that: packaging that happened to be used for pharmaceuticals. Much of it was not much different to packaging for any other products and the companies supplying it were not that different either.
Now, as show organizers UBM Live noted at the latest Pharmapack in Paris on 1-2 February, pharmaceutical packaging is not just more specialized but increasingly integral to the products. The boundaries between packaging, delivery systems and other medical devices have become blurred. Some of the most interesting new developments were on show at the Innovation Gallery, with six winning at the associated awards ceremony.
The Pharma Compliance Pack won Germany’s August Faller the Best Exhibitor Innovation Award for Patient Compliance. As explained at the company stand by Tanja Feldmüller, Head of Marketing & Innovation, this packaging system was especially developed to make it easier for patients to medicate using tablets, with a design integrated into the packaging to provide guidance on them.
The basic construction is simple: the pack contains a folding carton and an integrated five-sided ‘Lepo-Label’. Once the perforated tabs are selectively torn off, the blister can be pulled out only in ‘doses’, thus releasing only the tablets intended for immediate use. A rectilinear sliding mechanism makes it easy for medication to be taken in a predetermined sequence
“The folding carton is very easily constructed – if it is closed it is tamper-evident,” Feldmüller said. “You take away the first flap, then you can open it, which brings out the first pill. There are detachable adhesive part-labels that can be stuck as a reminder onto a calendar, or used as documentation in patient records once the first pill has been taken.”
According to the company, the Pharma Compliance Pack is suitable for a variety of blister designs, materials and formulations like tablets, capsules and coated tablets. However, the folding box mechanism idea is also seen as applicable to other primary packaging such as syringes, vials or ampoules.
Another exhibitor, not among the award winners, to address the sometimes-conflicting demands for ever more information and patient-friendly ways of delivering it, was France’s Tonnellier Group, a group of four companies specialising in secondary packaging. The company’s stand was promoting the Leaflex, which it had launched in 2016.
Export Sales Manager Hélène Duquesne said that pharmaceutical suppliers were facing a problem with their packaging. Because of the ever-increasing amount of information they are required to supply to patients and other users by legal requirements, the leaflets inserted into boxes are continually getting larger and thicker, potentially disrupting boxes and blisters and leading to line disruption.
The Leaflex combines extremely thin paper that can be folded in many different ways and folds out into extensive leaflet, giving all the information needed. It has a ‘flex zone’ at the bottom so it can be inserted inside the box, bottle or other package. This zone is adjustable and customizable: its dimensions and its position on the leaflet are determined by the box and product specifications and it is available in multiple different leaflet typologies.
“The flex zone is not a crease, but a result of how the leaflet is folded. You can adjust the dimensions of the leaflet according to the size of the pack. It can be in the middle or either side of the leaflet and because it is foldable there is no need for a major changes on the packaging line,” Duquesne said.
Also a winner of a Best Exhibitor Innovation Award, this time for Patient Safety, was the ‘Smart Packaging Solution’ from US labelling giant Multi-Color Corporation, developed in partnership with mobile technology firm Talkin’ Things. Their aim was to transform standard packaging into interactive touchpoints for use throughout the supply chain, making it possible to communicate with multiple users, including the patient.
Larry Sage, Business Development Manager at Talkin’ Things, explained that the smart packages created by the partnership all have an NFC and RFID tag, “so that every single medicine has a unique ID number. When the patient taps the product with his smartphone, he learns more about the medicine and gets a description on how to use it, etc.”
Each tag has a four-layer protection system guaranteeing that it is genuine, and offering protection against re-filling. A tamper tag system registers when the package is open and informs the patient about it via the Smartphone. The system guards against misuse by an alert that can only be switched off when the patient taps the product and takes the pill.
“Each package contains such safety features as dosage alerts, an expiration date and an alarm to tell the patient when to take a pill and how many are left. Once it gets below a certain number, the button goes red and warns you that you are about to run out and flashes up the contact details for the doctor to contact,” Sage said.
Rondo, a Swiss company specializing in folding boxes as secondary packaging for pharma, had a couple of innovations on show at its stand. Carepack, according to Jürgen Nowak, Director of Sales & Marketing, is a newly launched child-resistant package in which the pill cannot be pushed out by child and has to be opened by a plastic tab that is pushed up to reveal the pill.
The other was Safepack, a folding carton, inside which another cardboard fold is incorporated. This gives glass vials protection from impact and vibration, which are common causes of breakages, and prevents contamination from leaking medicines when breakages occur. The company said that it was using a mono-material in line with “the trend of environmentally friendly packaging”.
There were two winners in the Health Products category. Celgene’s Otzela Titration Pack is designed to maximize patient compliance to titration schedules for its psoriasis drug Otzela (apremilast). The pack contains three different strengths of pill – 10, 20 and 30 mg - and easy to read instructions.
The second was also designed by a drug maker, Sanofi Pasteur, this time in partnership with a specialist pharma packaging company in Campak. The Compact Box uses continuous motion technology applied to 100% cardboard single syringe packaging, the result being a 50% reduction in packaging volume and eliminating the use of PVC blisters. Cold chain benefits include a 30% reduction in distribution costs, it is claimed.
Pharmaceutical packaging, like drug delivery mechanisms, is addressing the same fundamental trends: patient-centricity, convenience and the overriding problem of non-compliance. Whether they are specialists in packaging, drugs companies, machinery suppliers or technology firms, those addressing these trends are finding multiple ways of doing it. The challenge will only intensify in the era of personalized medicine.