Packaging Trends

Security, the environment, aging populations, the bio-boom, and cost control are just a few of the drivers that will influence pharmaceutical packaging for the remainder of this decade.
Mar 02, 2007
Volume 31, Issue 3

Hallie Forcinio
From now until the end of the decade and beyond, pharmaceutical packaging will be affected by seven trends: widespread counterfeiting and diversion, increased environmental consciousness, growth in biotechnology products, influential retailers, aging populations in developed countries, increased access to healthcare in developing economies, and the ever-present need for cost control to preserve margins and keep medication affordable.

To adapt successfully, packaging professionals in the pharmaceutical industry must be prepared to adopt technology to track and protect products moving through the supply chain, leave a smaller environmental footprint, improve stability-enhancing packaging, expedite the package-design process, enhance senior-friendly and compliance features, boost packaging-line flexibility, reduce costs, and increase efficiency.

Radio-frequency identification

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagging to simplify shipping, receiving, inventory location, and control has been mandated by the Department of Defense, Wal-Mart stores (Bentonville, AR,, several other retailers, and various hospitals. Already in use on an escalating number of shipments, RFID tagging eventually will be required by nearly all retailers and many hospitals.

RFID will be impossible for packaging professionals in the pharmaceutical industry to avoid because it also can carry and collect the data needed to track and trace product through the supply chain, prevent counterfeiting and diversion, and meet pedigree requirements.

Technological developments should make it possible to install economical, multifrequency readers before the end of the decade. This will end the debate about which frequency is best for pharmaceutical applications and eliminate the need to standardize on either ultrahigh or high frequency industry-wide, thus allowing each company to adopt the frequency best suited to its operation.

RFID tags also can be coupled with sensors to monitor conditions during shipping and storage and provide alerts if parameters are exceeded. Dual-function tags that couple RFID with temperature sensing already are available and cost significantly less than traditional devices for temperature monitoring. One example integrates a sensor, microchip, battery, and antenna on a paper-thin label. It operates at 13.56 MHz ("TempSens" smart label, KSW-Microtec, Dresden, Germany,

Sustainability is...
Another application for RFID is to monitor patient compliance. Tagged blisters record when doses are taken ("Med-ic" electrical compliance monitor, Information Mediary Corp., Ottawa, ON, Canada, This type of smart sensor label–equipped blister package is being used by the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD), for a multiyear study of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that will involve nearly half a million individual doses of medication.

Environmental footprint

As the pendulum swings toward higher environmental consciousness, sustainability will be the theme song no one will be able to get out of his or her head. Sustainability embraces not only the recycling and waste-reduction imperatives of the last environmental era, but also the sourcing of renewable materials and minimizing greenhouse-gas generation, water use, and energy consumption.

Wal-Mart, one of the driving forces behind RFID implementation, also has embraced sustainability. President and CEO Lee Scott announced the company's "Sustainability 360" program in February 2007 during a keynote address at the "Business and the Environment Programme" hosted biennially in London by the Prince of Wales. Wal-Mart's initiative relies heavily on suppliers as well as customers, communities, and employees. "It is the responsibility of every corporation to be more sustainable," Scott said.

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