The pharmaceutical industry is changing rapidly. Not only are drug discovery techniques and manufacturing methods evolving, but the role of the patient is also morphing from a simple receiver to an active participant in drug development. Two factors contributing to this shift include the increased percentage of costs borne by patients and the widening access to information through the Internet and social media.
McKinsey reported that in 2016 consumers paid $330 billion in annual out-of-pocket healthcare expenses and had the potential to impact over 60% of all healthcare spending.1 Studies have also shown that active involvement by patients leads to improved outcomes and lower costs.2
In addition, patients are “savvy consumers” that are beginning to expect “an ‘Amazon-like’ customer experience when interacting with physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare service providers.”3 According to one study, 76% of respondents expect tools and support services from drug manufacturers.4 In the context of value-based reimbursement, big data and advanced data analytics and rapid advances in digital technology, it should be no surprise that patient engagement has become a focus of the pharmaceutical industry.3
Because patients see themselves as active consumers, they expect drug product packaging to provide similar experiences to packaging for other consumer products. Packaging company WestRock found that over a third of respondents to its annual “Packaging Matters” survey were repeat buyers of drug products for which the packaging kept the product safe and fresh; prevented spills, leaks or breakage; was easy to close and enabled proper dosing; and kept themselves and their families safe.5
Packaging can no longer be an afterthought. In fact, it has become an important factor in the development of drug products. To be considered effective by today’s patient consumers, drug packaging must offer multiple functions that meet a wide range of expectations. “Responsive, flexible and innovative patient-centric packaging is a game-changer when fashioning stand-out products that please patients in their new roles as consumers, encourage brand loyalty and provide manufacturers with a leg-up in an increasingly competitive and crowded biopharmaceutical market.”5
Pharmaceutical companies that ask patients about their unmet needs before even beginning the discovery phase for a new drug have a greater chance of developing medications that patients will actually use.6 Pharmaceutical companies may think patients want one thing when in fact they want something entirely different — and in some cases contrary to what might seem to be obvious.
One example is Parkinson’s disease, for which pharma companies have focused on addressing tremors, while patients, as UCB discovered, are more concerned about sleep disturbances.6 In another case, LEO Pharma learned that patients with psoriasis on their scalps did not use an ointment medication because it was greasy. The company developed a new formulation that absorbs quickly into the skin and is used much more widely.6
Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories has made the commitment to bring patient insights into its packaging design efforts through the Purple Health platform, which seeks to inspire patient-centric innovation and deliver solutions that address unmet patient needs.7 The company’s first initiative was conducted in partnership with design and innovation consulting firm IDEO. The “Human-Centered Design” approach to finding solutions was applied during the design phase of the project, with input from patients, doctors and pharmacists across India. Dr. Reddy’s is also assessing the ability of its existing products to “deliver care beyond the pill.”
Poor medication adherence continues to be a huge issue for the pharmaceutical industry, costing large amounts of money in unnecessary disease complications and emergency room visits. Drug product packaging is typically the only interaction that a patient has with the drug manufacturer. If it is difficult to use or confusing, it often contributes to the problem.8
The solution is to design packaging that takes the patient perspective into account in order to produce products that increase patient confidence and compliance. The development of effective, patient-centric packaging solutions intended to improve medication adherence will require collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and packaging material/component suppliers, machinery suppliers and regulators and groups developing industry standards.8
The focus on patient centricity and the recognition of its potential to improve patient adherence are leading to the integration of advanced medical device, drug delivery, digital, mobile and wearable technologies with drug products.9 Mobile healthcare apps, while largely used by healthy consumers for fitness purposes, are available for monitoring of patients and collection of not only physiological data, but also data regarding medication compliance and patient opinions of device/delivery/packaging functionality.9
The results can be witnessed in the variety of new delivery and packaging technologies being developed to address the needs, preferences and expectations of patients. A few recent examples include:
Efforts are also underway to develop formulations of biologic drugs that can be taken orally rather than via injection.11 The main driver for this work is the greater ease and convenience of oral dosage drugs. The challenge is to overcome the physicochemical properties of large biomolecules that lead to their degradation in the gastrointestinal system and limit their ability to be transported into the bloodstream.
David is Scientific Editor in Chief of the Pharma’s Almanac content enterprise, responsible for directing and generating industry, scientific and research-based content, including client-owned strategic content, in addition to serving as Scientific Research Director for That's Nice. Before joining That’s Nice, David served as a scientific editor for the multidisciplinary scientific journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. He received a B.A. in Biology from New York University in 1999 and a Ph.D. in Genetics and Development from Columbia University in 2008.