Report from Asia

December 2, 2011
Jane Wan

Jane Wan is a freelance writer based in Singapore.

Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-12-02-2011, Volume 35, Issue 12

Packaging is indeed headed to be a lead sector in the Asian pharmaceutical environment, but certain challenges must first be overcome.

Packaging is indeed headed to be a lead sector in the Asian pharmaceutical environment, but certain challenges must first be overcome.

Asia is a key driving force of the current global pharmaceutical industry. In recent years, healthcare demands among the region's populations have increased and its low operating costs continue to attract pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical packaging sector, in particular, has grown and matured in line with the emergence of China and India as pharmaceutical manufacturing leaders, according to Warwick Bedwell, president of pharmaceutical packaging systems (Asia–Pacific) at West Pharmaceutical Services. Packaging is indeed headed to be a leading sector in the Asian pharmaceutical environment, but certain challenges must first be overcome.

For starters, trends and developments within the region vary from one market to another. Joerg Doescher, sales director Asia of SCHOTT Pharmaceutical Packaging explains: "Emerging markets such as China and India show strong growth and are moving towards a trend of higher quality requirements. Mature markets such as Japan experience slower growth rates that are driven mainly by developments in the field of biotech solutions."

PHOTO:BERNARD SIAO PHOTOGRAPHY / GETTY IMAGES

Interestingly, a fragmented Asian market opens doors for diversified business opportunities and approaches whether they are through alliances, joint ventures, or acquisitions. But before a company can expect to be successful throughout the Asian region, it has to establish a local presence. Unlike the European and US markets, centralized production is necessary to learn directly from customers and to address local market needs.

Companies "have to be clear about their product roadmap and product life-cycle management in order to be prepared for the market launch of packaging solutions that address future customer demands. Excellent customer relationships are essential to gain insights to local trends and developments to offer suitable products in time," says Doescher.

This strategy explains why SCHOTT, based in Elmsford, New York, built a production site within an existing one in Suzhou to promote faster production of their glass products and to gain authority in the high-end Chinese market. The company's joint venture with Kaisha Manufacturers in Mumbai, India, allowed it to enter the Indian market and provided an opportunity to foster close proximity with customers, opinion leaders, and shareholders. Another example is West Pharmaceutical Services, which is building a second manufacturing facility in Qingpu, China, to prepare for meeting the needs of the Chinese and Indian markets when production begins in 2013.

Counterfeiting

Based on a BMI 2011 report, it is alleged that India accounts for one-third of the counterfeit drugs in the region. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that 30% of pharmaceuticals are counterfeits in developing regions such as Asia and Latin America compared with 1% in developed countries. As a result, pharmaceutical packaging players working within the Asian market are rushing to apply new and unique security features to their packaging systems to help prevent counterfeiting and to expand their level of support to pharmaceutical industry customers, says Bill Martineau, a senior healthcare consultant at the Freedonia Group.

For example, MeadWestvaco (Richmond, VA) incorporates radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags into pharmaceutical folding cartons so that products can be identified and verified at various points in the supply chain. West Pharmaceutical Services has introduced seals whereby drug manufacturers can incorporate multiple layers of protection to their drug products to enhance patient safety, combat drug counterfeiting, and safeguard their supply chain.

Implementing such systems, however, is not easy. "Few pharmacies in China and other countries have the equipment to authenticate drug packages. Moreover, governments have been slow to strengthen anticounterfeiting requirements due to resistance from local drug makers who depend upon high-volume, low-cost generics for sales and profits," says Martineau.

Krithika Tyagarajan, director for chemicals, materials, and food Asia–Pacific at Frost & Sullivan, highlights that major packaging companies have to consider various requirements to implement an effective track-and-trace technology into their systems. For example, the design has to be protected. It should be foolproof and difficult to copy, and must be consistent throughout the application. Companies such as Dr. Reddy's, based in Hyderabad, India, are working with packaging manufacturers and track-and-trace technology providers to supply consistent and cost effective applications. Bilcare, of Pune, India, has introduced a patented, nonclonable track-and-trace authentication-enabling technology that allows the product to be traced from origin to consumer.

Aging population

Asia's aging population is also changing the way packaging is developed for products in the region. Several Asian governments have increased health insurance and reimbursement plans, thereby giving a much higher percentage of the population access to medicines. "The elderly prefer recognizable and straightforward opening methods. So, the challenge is to design one that is highly visible [and] easily identifiable," explains Tyagarajan. Products need to be both senior-friendly and child-resistant. In addition, he points out that "companies need to consider factors including product package compatibility, safety and security, sustainability, regulations and compliance, delivery format, waste management of disposables, and track-and-trace capability." AstraZeneca has incorporated all of these factors into the design of their products. Rexam, also based in the United Kingdom, has come up with a design for cap closures that is senior friendly.

Another consideration with the aging population is the number of intravenous infusions delivered each year throughout the region, currently about 6.5 billion. That number is expected to grow, placing the need for prefillable syringes and cartridges in high demand, says Bedwell.

Future outlook

Looking forward, Asia's pharmaceutical packaging industry looks promising. Currently, the region accounts for 26% of the global pharmaceutical packaging market, but that percentage is expected to increase to 34% by 2015. China alone is expected to grow from a 5% share to 15% in 2015, and India from 2% to 4%.

Packaging-sector growth and success will differ among countries within Asia, and those that grab hold of it are likely to win big. "Packaging is used as a differentiator and brand builder. With time, packaging will take on different forms in the healthcare sector and will not [be limited] to security or safety aspects," adds Tyagarajan.

Jane Wan is a freelance writer based in Singapore.