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Advances in intelligent technologies for pharmaceutical packaging improve online productivity, authenticate product, and boost patient adherence.
With the evolution of interactive “intelligent” technologies such as near-field communication (NFC), radio frequency identification (RFID), and two-dimensional barcodes, patients can interact with pharmaceutical products in unprecedented ways. Such “smart” packaging offers the potential to improve patient adherence, safety, and therapeutic success.
“[Using smart packaging,] wrong applications are prevented, counterfeits can be reliably detected and rejected, processes are automated and secured, and relevant information is available at the point of use,” explains Arne Rehm, product manager RFID/NFC Solutions at Schreiner MediPharm. The technology also supports traceability throughout the processing, packaging, and distribution process as well as implementation of Industry 4.0.
Rehm reports, “UHF [ultra-high frequency] RFID offers the advantage of being able to track a large number of individual products or packaging units at once. For example, all products can be recorded within a few seconds for inventory monitoring, which is far superior to optical or manual processes in speed and accuracy.” NFC allows large amounts of data to be stored almost invisibly on the product. It works particularly well in situations where graphic space is scarce and is well-suited for labels for small containers with narrow radii. “A key aspect here is certainly the high level of digital counterfeit protection that can be provided at the same time,” says Rehm.
He notes, “RFID and NFC labels have become more powerful and cheaper in recent years. In addition to the greatly improved reading range of new chip generations in the UHF range, various new functionalities have been integrated, from security to sensor technology.”
A DataMatrix code is the basis for Smart Containers from SCHOTT North America. Laser marking a unique code on the bottom of each vial enables traceability throughout the entire manufacturing process. The unique DataMatrix code is applied during vial manufacturing. After hot forming, advanced laser technologies create the code and inextricably link it to the container. Coded containers may be scanned at various points during the fill/finish process, including after loading, washing, depyrogenation, filling/checkweighing, stoppering, crimping, and labeling, as well as before secondary packaging. “To ensure ease of use, the Smart Container code can be read by conventional camera equipment,” says Diana Löber, global product manager vials at SCHOTT. “Moreover, as the unique identifier is positioned at the bottom of a vial, there is no need to install multiple cameras or to turn the container,” she explains.
Scanning the code supports implementation of Industry 4.0 and helps pharma manufacturers unlock the power of machine vision and big data analytics by enabling optimal monitoring and traceability of the vial manufacturing and fill/finish processes. “This means that the technology supports and improves reject management and line clearance, reducing the risk of mix-up and optimizing lyophilization processes and container-based targeted recalls,” says Löber.
Caregivers and patients also benefit. With a unique code on each vial, if a product quality problem arises and a recall is necessary, it is easier to identify which vials need to be recalled and remove them more quickly from the marketplace. “This ensures patient safety and high quality up until the drug is administered,” concludes Löber.
For labeled containers, particularly vials and syringes with small radius curves, Schreiner MediPharm offers labels equipped with RFID technology, which relies on flexible electronics from PragmatIC instead of rigid silicon chips.. “Until now, conventional RFID/NFC solutions have mainly been utilized in high-value use cases,” said Dr. Thomas Schweizer, president of Schreiner MediPharm. “Due to the cooperation with PragmatIC, we are now able to offer attractively priced, smart pharma labels even for high-volume and low-cost medicines,” he reported (1).
For smart cartons, a partnership between Schreiner MediPharm and Edelmann, a folding carton producer, incorporates digital features for fast, reliable product authentication and product protection. BitSecure copy detection technology prints a small, digital security feature based on a high-resolution, random pattern whose intricate details are not discernible by the naked eye. The pattern can be authenticated quickly using a smartphone or handheld reader and analyzed via related software. A closure seal with an integrated NFC chip and an irreversible void effect combines analog and digital technologies, offering double tamper evidence. Before the seal’s initial opening, the user reads the NFC chip using a smartphone and related app to confirm product authenticity. Opening the package without peeling off the seal causes it to break along the perforation. If the NFC chip is read again, the smartphone will warn the packaging has been opened previously. The chip also may link the user to interactive applications for patient information and assistance (2).
For inhaled products, which are sometimes difficult to dispense correctly, Sanner and Amiko Digital Health are partnering to equip dry powder inhalers with advanced sensor technology. Amiko’s Respiro platform tracks device usage in real-time and facilitates adherence by ensuring the medication is administered following the right technique. “Our digital health tools assist healthcare professionals and empower patients to achieve better respiratory treatment results,” said Duilio Macchi, chief executive officer and co-founder of Amiko, in a press release (3).
The partners have designed the plastic part that houses the electronic components, completed prototypes, and set the stage for production. “The engineering of these plastic parts for serial production was quite a challenge,” notes Ursula Hahn, head of Product Management at Sanner. Although commercialization is likely to take some time due to the many sales channels and stakeholders involved, Sanner is confident the add-on will be accepted and successful. In addition, Hahn predicted, this technology “…will certainly be transferred to further areas of application in the near future.”
Another respiratory product partnership, this one between Aptar Pharma and Sonmol, an adherence specialist based in Shanghai, seeks to increase patient engagement and provide better treatment outcomes for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The resulting Smart Inhalers will be marketed primarily in China and other Asian markets (4).
One intelligent packaging technology that’s already commercial is the I-Smart wallet from Schreiner MediPharm, which is based on the child-resistant and tamper-resistant Dosepak carton from WestRock. A microchip applied to the blister pack uses NFC to send a signal to a smartphone to alert the patient to take his/her medication and monitors adherence. Janssen Cilag, the winner of the award in the Equipment Innovation Category in the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering’s 2019 Facility of the Year Competition, runs the I-Smart wallet on equipment from C-Matic and ECCT. On the line, one machine automates and performs virtually every step in the packaging function. Capable of being remotely controlled, the line is designed to be flexible enough to run a range of dosage forms and blister designs for quick changeover and speedy product launches. The result is shorter cycle times, lower labor and material costs, higher capacity, and enhanced process compliance and reliability (5).
For the patient, medication intake is electronically documented (time and dose). “When the patient pushes a tablet out of the blister, data are generated in real-time, such as the time of removal, the dose or, optionally, the respective cavity,” explains Uwe Braun, product manager of Patient Compliance Monitoring Solutions at Schreiner MediPharm. These data are automatically stored in the package and transmitted to a database via a smartphone app or a reader using NFC or Bluetooth.
For Janssen Cilag, the I-Smart Wallet was customized for its drug. “All electronic features were integrated without any change of the existing package design,” reports Braun. As a result, end-user convenience could be assured because the blister pack use and push-through forces remained unchanged.
Inline readers on I-Smart wallet production lines and pharmaceutical packaging lines verify all functionalities are working before finished packages are released. “Additionally,” Braun says, “specific data such as lot number, ID codes, and medication name can be stored on the chip inside the package. Finally, a full digital track-and-trace system with security features can be added optionally.
Smart technologies are not limited to packaging but also can be incorporated directly on solid dosage forms. One technology from TruTag Technologies adds an invisible barcode to each pill. It relies on functionalized microparticles of silica, an FDA-approved pharmaceutical excipient, which forms an invisible, edible, and high-security optical 3D barcode, known as TruTags. In the case of tablets, TruTags barcodes are added as part of the existing film coat (via standard pan-coating processes) or applied through an immediate-release clear topcoat. “TruTags do not impact the release profile or stability of the product nor do they impact tablet elegance,” reports Dr. Michael Bartholomeusz, CEO at TruTag Technologies. In the case of capsules, TruTags barcodes are mixed into existing inks and applied directly on capsules using a standard printing process.
TruTags barcodes can be read by a proprietary, enterprise-level portable or handheld unit or a mobile phone equipped with a downloadable app. Bartholomeusz says, “While this phone-based reader can also be used by the brands and manufacturers, it is especially useful as a consumer tool to ensure the authenticity of the product … and as a patient interaction tool for the pharma companies.”
According to Bartholomeusz, “the TruTag solution can bring profound value to several stakeholder groups-specifically in the area of quality, safety, and security.” He explains, “For patients, the adoption of TruTags on tablets and capsules offers a tangible path toward the mass digitalization of medicines and a future where patients can interact directly with their medicines via cell phones. The potential value of this interaction has been well-documented and includes the ability to: ensure patients are getting the correct product in the correct dosage; communicate prescribing information; monitor and influence patient adherence; and record adverse events and link them directly to specific product batches ([for a] risk evaluation and mitigation strategy).”
TruTags barcodes facilitate instant and unequivocal identification of products anywhere in the supply chain, which is critical when there is a suspect event. It enables manufacturers and brand owners to determine whether the problem is related to an internal quality failure, an external supply chain issue, or third-party criminal actions such as counterfeiting, diversion, or sale of expired products. Knowing the cause of the problem allows a pharmaceutical company to take specific corrective action. “While efforts to serialize packaging certainly help with this process, once tablets and capsules are removed from their original packaging, serialization is rendered ineffective,” adds Bartholomeusz. Barcoded tablets or capsules can be identified throughout the product’s entire lifecycle.
Smart packaging will continue to enhance patient safety and counterfeit protection. Hahn predicts, “Track-and-trace will also develop further to ensure a more transparent supply chain.” She also believes demand for integrated smart devices will expand so caregivers and patients will know when a dose was taken and that it was administered correctly.
With technology evolving and prices declining, “We … see many opportunities for RFID and NFC labels,” adds Rehm. He predicts, “The possibility of integrating sensor functionalities (temperature, humidity, etc.) will enable a large number of new applications at unit level.”
1. Schreiner MediPharm, “Schreiner MediPharm and PragmatIC Announce Strategic Partnership for Smart Pharma Labels,” Press Release, Dec. 5, 2019
2. Schreiner MediPharm, “Schreiner MediPharm and Edelmann Group Develop Demo Version of Smart Packaging Solution,” Press Release, March 28, 2019.
3. Sanner, “Sanner and Amiko Partner to Develop Digital Solutions for True Medication Adherence,” Press Release, Feb. 13, 2018.
4. AptarGroup, “Aptar and Sonmol Partner to Develop Digital Platform for Respiratory-Related Therapies,” Press Release, April 21, 2020.
5. ISPE, “2019 Category Winner for Equipment Innovation Janssen Cilag SpA,” www.ispe.org, iSpeak Blog, July 18, 2019.
Hallie Forcinio is packaging editor at Pharmaceutical Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vol. 44, No. 6
Pages: 44–45, 58
When referring to this article, please cite it as H. Forcinio, "Intelligent Packaging Promotes Interaction with Patients," Pharmaceutical Technology 44 (6) 2020.