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Pharmaceutical packaging trends for 2020 and beyond

Posted on August 4th, 2020 in Industry News

2020 is set to be the most significant year so far for pharmaceutical packaging.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased demand for preventive and medicinal treatments from health clinics and consumers in lockdown, who rely on packaging to deliver their items safely and keep them safe from infections.

Even before COVID-19, the rise in disease diagnoses and treatments, changing consumer preferences and other pharmaceutical trends were already requiring medical packaging manufacturers to develop new solutions to meet growing demands.

These are some of the main conversations likely to influence pharma packaging in Australia and worldwide over the next few years.

Designing for self-medication

Rates of diabetes and numerous other diseases are on the rise across the developed world, increasing demand for more convenient self-injection packages to allow patients and caregivers to administer drugs more easily.

Coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing rules have also made self-administering a necessity for many people who are confined to their homes or otherwise unable to see a practitioner, under their practitioner’s guidance.

The growing demand for self-administering drug packages has informed the development of advanced autoinjector systems such as insulin pens, self-injectables for asthma, autoimmune diseases, hepatitis C and other manageable health conditions and for other uses, such as hormone therapies and emergency treatments.

Packaging manufacturers need to stay updated about the latest self-administering drug packages, as these can vary considerably in size and shape compared to traditional medications and may not be compatible with existing processes.

Prioritising safety

With pharmaceuticals becoming more complex and more consumers ordering direct from manufacturers through online stores rather than buying from a pharmacy, medical packaging needs to protect its contents during shipping and to safeguard the receiver when packages are opened and handled.

Safe handling and integrity must be ensured at every stage of product assembly, packaging, processing and shipping. Human supervision is insufficient for more complex pharmaceuticals, which require more advanced camera monitoring to detect any minor defects in containers or packaging that could compromise safety.

Sterile and antiviral packaging

From testing kits and trial vaccines to everyday goods, the coronavirus pandemic emphasised the importance of sterile packaging to prevent the spread of disease through contact and reassure consumers who were concerned about infection risks.

Sterile and antibacterial packaging has been a focus of manufacturers across the sectors. As consumer priorities largely shifted from sustainability to more urgent protection, companies that formerly used sustainable packaging materials have tended to swap these out for rigid plastics with more reliable barrier properties.

Safety doesn’t have to mean sacrificing sustainability, however. Research is ongoing into antibacterial and antiviral polymers and biopolymers for pharmaceutical packaging that, if successful, will be less toxic and more environmentally-friendly than standard plastic packaging.

Outsourcing to meet demand

Demand for prescription and non-prescription drugs is rising every year, and this is requiring packaging manufacturers to scale up their operations. The COVID-19 spike in demand saw many struggling to keep up, especially since preventive measures such as social distancing and remote working left many plants understaffed.

While pharmaceutical demand will eventually drop from the height of coronavirus levels, the former steady growth is expected to continue, especially now that online pharmacy shopping is a normal routine for more people. Manufacturers therefore need to make sure their supply can match this demand.

Since the requirement to produce ever greater quantities of ever more varied products is beyond the capacity of many manufacturers, more are choosing to outsource less critical operations to contractors overseas, particularly in emerging pharma markets such as China and India.

These operations need to have the flexibility to meet changing demands and to have strict safety and quality checks in place to ensure consistent standards and compliance with regulations.

Serialisation requirements

As well as satisfying consumer demands, pharmaceutical manufacturers also need to make sure their operations comply with changing laws and guidelines. A pressing issue at present is the introduction of serialisation technologies across packaging and processing in an effort to combat counterfeiting.

With each individual item needing to be serialised before packing and shipping, introducing serialisation can require an extensive overhaul of established processes, as well as upgrading IT systems with the associated control software.

Digital pharma

Businesses that commit to overhauling their systems for serialisation should use the opportunity to explore more digital solutions that could improve efficiency, lower costs and help them to meet targets.

As digital technologies become ever more prominent in packing and processing over the next few years, pharmaceutical manufacturers may be able to reliably predict maintenance requirements in advance, conduct virtual reality (VR) training and automate processes for faster and more reliable picking and packing, among other advances.

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