Complications are run-of-the-mill in the pharmaceutical packaging industry. The compounds are often highly sensitive to temperature changes, exposure to light or exposure to air. If not packed properly, medicines can often be rendered useless. Furthermore, in the case of medicines, a crucial part of the packaging is providing important information to the consumers. And pharmaceutical companies have to do all this while trying to adhere to the medicine packaging standards of the region.
Here are some of the common challenges of the pharmaceutical packaging industry.
Handling and Transportation
Generally, most medicines come in rectangular boxes since they are much easier to handle. Not only do they save a lot of space, but they are also easily stackable. Stackability saves shipping costs. However, there is a limit to how much you can stack the boxes. Often, medicines such as injections are packed in glass vials. These are then bundled using blister strips and cardboard boxes. Stacking such packaging can be quite difficult as glass vials can break under the pressure. Similarly, stacking and bundling aren’t possible on liquid medication that uses glass or plastic bottles as their primary packaging.
Fortunately, there are alternative forms of packaging that pharmaceutical companies can leverage. Custom made foam packaging or rotomolded cases can help transport fragile products while protecting them from vibration and shock during the transportation process.
Preserving the Medicinal Value of the Products
The primary objective of pharmaceutical packaging is to preserve the curative effects of the medicine while meeting the existing packaging standards of the region. In general, most medication need protection from moisture and heat. Some also need temperature-controlled storage. There are dedicated shipping boxes with insulation to store medicines at a certain temperature for days.
Providing Relevant Information on the Packaging
The packaging should also provide enough information to the patients and nurses. The medicine packaging should contain all the relevant information such as the composition and the expiry date. The packaging also must contain the serial or the batch number for traceability and should come with dosage information as well as any related warnings. If the packaging does not contain all the relevant information, it cannot be sold. The information requirement is also determined by the location where the medicine is to be sold.
Adhering to the Global Standards
The serialization standards in different markets are different. Furthermore, one drug can be made available by different names in different markets by the same pharmaceutical company. When the companies produce all the drugs for the different markets in a single processing line, the task of printing and labeling the packaging becomes quite complex. Sophisticated software and hardware are used to centralize and manage the process.
Accommodating New Biologics
As new drugs are being discovered, the new packaging is also required to accommodate them. The glass vial is very common for packaging liquid compounds. However, there are certain drug formulations that can delaminate glass packaging. This leads to flaking. Manufacturers are now exploring new materials that can be used to replace glass to construct vials. Similarly, in pre-filled syringes, silicone oil was used to lubricate the plunger. However, the silicone oil often denatured the protein complexes present in the syringe. Hence, there is a demand for silicone free or low-silicone syringes.
Preventing Counterfeit Products
Pharmaceutical packaging should also have the security measures that show that the medicine is genuine. Counterfeited drugs are a major problem. Companies are incorporating scannable codes, hologram stickers to seal the packaging, UV prints and more to ensure that genuine products stand out. Color shifting inks, IR and UV sensitive inks, tear tape seals, and other tamper evident sealing technologies are common in the pharmaceutical packaging industry.
Incorporating Scannable Codes
Scannable codes such as barcodes, QR or RFID are convenience features that make inventory management faster. They also provide supplementary information to the consumers. The packaging should have at least one scannable barcode that contains the product serial. This often becomes challenging in smaller packaging which should also contain the composition of the drug, the relevant dates, dosages and more. QR codes can suffice, as the consumer can extract the additional information as-on-need basis.
The demand for sustainable packaging is increasing across all industries and the pharmaceutical industry is no exception. The primary challenge is keeping the packaging sustainable while still meeting all the other requirements. Plastics are common in pharmaceutical packaging and the use of recycled plastics can help reduce the negative effects of single-use disposable packaging that is quite common in the case of pharmaceuticals.
Will the Pharmaceutical Packaging Industry Overcome These Challenges?
Investments in R&D is tackling some of the challenges of modern-day pharmaceutical packaging. The packaging of medicines is just as important as the medicine itself. Preservation and protection of the drugs are critical. Furthermore, it’s important to adhere to the standards set by the government or other regulatory bodies. Companies that make use of in-house packaging solution need to keep up with the new innovations as well as the change in regulations.
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