Pharma Moves Towards More User-Friendly Packaging

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Ger Standhardt, manager of knowledge development & projects at NVC, shares insights on the role of pharmaceutical packaging and accessible design in patient adherence.

In pharmaceutical packaging, drug manufactures must consider aspects such as the functions of packaging, the materials used in packaging, quality assurance, and final presentation, to name a few. Recently, there is an increasing emphasis on the role of pharmaceutical packaging in patient adherence. Ger Standhardt, manager of knowledge development & projects at NVC, an association of companies addressing packaging activities throughout the supply chain of packaged products, shares insights on this topic with Pharmaceutical Technology Europe.

PTE: Can you tell us more about the importance of pharmaceutical packaging?

Standhardt: Packaging is defined by the NVC Netherlands Packaging Centre as the activity of temporarily integrating an external function and a product to enable the use of the product. Important terms in this definition are ‘temporarily integrating’ and ‘external function.’ Packaging adds functions to a product that the product does not intrinsically have, that is why we speak of ‘external functions.’ The packaging and the product temporarily become one item-they are integrated-but will go separate ways again when the product is used. Specifically for medicines, the most important functions are ensuring safety, authenticity, and accessibility of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), regardless of product form (i.e., whether pill, liquid, or vapour).

Challenges and best practices

PTE: What are the challenges in pharmaceutical packaging from a manufacturer’s perspective? Can you share with us some best practices?

Standhardt: We discern three main challenges and accompanying opportunities in pharmaceutical packaging. First of all, any package must be designed with the industry’s needs in mind. It needs to be produced by the industry, and this fact determines the cost of a pack. In the end, the product and its packaging will be used by physicians, healthcare providers and patients, the end users. Up until now, the industry has devoted most of its efforts to something that seems simple, but isn’t: closing the packaging and making sure that it stays closed. Now that this problem has been solved, manufacturers are focusing on making packaging more user-friendly and easy to open, while ensuring that it is easy to produce at a low cost. There should, therefore, be an effort to apply accessible design.

Accessible design is close to the core of packaging as an activity. Basically, accessible design translates user-friendly design into technical specifications and different user groups in the broadest sense. The accessible design of packages is a global imperative because it will allow users to apply the products safely, easily, and with satisfaction, irrespective of age, perceptual, and cognitive ability, level of physical functioning, language, working environment, and culture.

One of the biggest challenges in healthcare is ensuring that the package contributes to the overall effectiveness of the treatment over its intended period. Patient adherence should be a primary goal, assuming that the patient is capable of taking medicine independently. Today, studies show that patients start off adhering to their prescriptions but this adherence can fall off over time. Sometimes, this problem can be due to the drug-delivery design, or the taste of the formulation. However, packaging can be a strong factor in getting patients to take their medicine. In the end, the final point of contact between the patient and the healthcare providers and/or the distributors of medicine is not the dispensing pharmacist, but the pharmaceutical package. If the packaging is difficult to open or use, or features confusing instructions, patient adherence is placed at risk. Thus, intelligent packaging and clear communication is crucial to improving patient outcomes.


The third challenge is preventing falsified medicines. Falsified medicines threaten the health of patients and consumers, because they lack the proper active ingredients or even contain harmful substances. Features are required to verify authenticity and ensure the medical consistency of the drug product, API, and excipients used in any formulation. Packaging can play a key role in safeguarding the pharmaceutical supply chain. Best packaging practice supports quick and effective communication between industry, public, and enforcement authorities (e.g., customs).

Packaging innovations

PTE: What packaging innovations have you observed over the past five years and what advances do you wish to see in the near future?

Standhardt: In general, innovation has moved from a focus on new materials in the 1960s and 1970s, to one on designs that will improve logistics efficiency. This shift was the driving force behind packaging design from the 1980s to the end of the 20th century. In this new millennium, the emphasis is now on user-friendly packaging that also improves supply chain safety and efficiency.

Examples of recent pharmaceutical packaging innovations include CurTec’s Clickpack, Solvay’s packaging for the single use Influvac syringe, the Airdrive pack for donor organs by Hordijk EPS, the Easipack by Chesapeake (now Multi Packaging Solutions), and Locked4Kids by EcoBliss. All these innovations either improve the production process, improve the security of the supply chain, or add features of accessible design, or accomplish all three.

We can take all these improvements a step further, as an industry, by continuing to focus on applying accessible design, to improve patient compliance and protect society against counterfeit pharmaceuticals.