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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Location, Location, Location

In line with other major industrial sectors, pharmaceutical companies are seeking to leverage the cost advantages of global market reach, for example by streamlining processes and rationalising supply chains. But these goals can be better achieved by adopting a truly global packaging strategy.

The pharma industry faces particular challenges in meeting the demand for greater productivity while accommodating changes in drug formulations. Producing and then moving drugs around the world is not easily comparable with other industries, not least because of the growing sensitivity of formulations and the selfevident need to ensure that efficacy and safety is guaranteed when medicines arrive in patients’ hands.

One of the industry’s major successes over the past 40 years has been the wide adoption of blister packaging as an industry standard. This has been driven by the flexibility in design that blister packaging offers and the high productivity and quality outcomes that it creates for the delivery of oral solids.

Underlying this adoption is the universally accepted benefit inherent in the unit dose concept, which provides visual and haptical evidence of the number of doses taken, making it easy for patients to follow their therapy. It is a comfortable and familiar means of taking medication – and is one of the main reasons why the majority of marketed medicines have been presented as tablets and capsules over many decades.

Today pharmaceutical companies are seeking to leverage the benefits of a truly global marketplace, while at the same time embracing new generation drug formulations that in themselves can present packaging challenges.

Slimming Down

As far as packaging is concerned, the emphasis among leading companies is towards smaller, slimmer packs that reduce packaging waste, optimise shelf space at wholesalers and pharmacies, and enhance pack portability for patients.

From a business perspective, limiting the number of agreed packaging variants cuts product cycle time and the analytical costs inherent in parallel stability testing. Add to this the downstream benefits of operational equipment efficiency (OEE) from faster changeovers, easier site transfer projects and overall economies of scale, and it is easy to see why global strategies founded on rationalised packaging solutions are a key focus for the industry.

As pharma companies expand their franchise to international regions, it becomes apparent that primary packaging developed for drug use in moderate climatic zones does not provide a universal global solution – particularly as a growing list of APIs and excipients are more sensitive to moisture than in the past.

Countries such as Brazil and India, which require packaging to meet the necessary criteria for hot climates (namely ICH Zones 4 and 4b) as well as many other parts of South America, Africa, and South-East Asia, have prompted the development of innovative new films, which can provide solutions for protecting moisture-sensitive formulations, whatever the climatic conditions.

The need for ultra-high barrier protection is also on the rise as a result of the pharmaceutical industry’s innovations in the domain of advanced drug delivery, including oral dissolve technologies, extended release technologies and combination treatments.

Moisture-sensitive dosages require packaging technologies that enable the successful delivery of the drug therapy to any climatic region using a single solution. Such a strategy, based on a high barrier blister packaging film, not only makes global reach a realistic objective by facilitating product shelf-life, it also opens up the potential for significant advantages in reducing packaging complexity and the associated time spent on decision making.

There are various packing options or formats available that meet the functional requirement of providing high moisture protection, and if needed, oxygen and light barrier protection. These range from amber glass bottles with metal screw-caps and multi-layer HDPE bottles, to cold formed foil (CFF) blisters and blister packs made from high barrier thermoforming films.

There are several drivers for the growing demand for ultra-high barrier thermoforming technologies. There is an increasing number of innovations linked to oral dissolve technologies, extended release technologies and combination treatments. A growing number of APIs are poorly soluble and the related changes in physical form, such as particle size reduction and an amorphous structure, add to moisture sensitivity.

Longer and more complex supply chains are becoming necessary in countries that are hot and humid or hot and dry. For pharmaceutical companies, it is mission-critical to adopt universal packaging approaches that both provide sufficient product shelf life and meet the needs of users as well. Ideally, the universal primary packaging standards reduce the cost of complexity and the carbon footprint of shipping through streamlined in- and outbound supply chains.

The benefits common to all polymer-based thermoforming films include the following:
  • Small blister footprint compared to CFF – even at big tablet and capsule sizes. For very large tablets and capsules, a 65 per cent reduction in the blister footprint can be achieved – the average is about 55 per cent
  • Gains in user acceptance as the films enable patient discretion, portability and ease of dose extraction
  • Reduction of up to 60 per cent in material use, from forming film to lid-stock and carton board
  • Reduction in energy use and carbon footprint of up to 25 per cent
  • Gains in blister packaging line productivity of up to 200 per cent

Adherence and Safety

Of course, for pharmaceutical companies, the relationship with patients remains key in successful brand development and promotion, and here packaging design can also provide a strong market differentiator. Since many oral solid brands are offered in more than one tablet or capsule strength, packaging is vital not just to ensure the efficacy of the drug but to encourage patient adherence to therapy.

Certainly, suitable colour coding of the outer carton or potential colour differences in the dosage itself combined with clear blister packaging films are helpful in the drive to prevent medication errors.

Looking ahead, drug integrity will become even more critical for patients as a result of the move towards reducing the frequency of drug administration, which is expected to result in better patient compliance and improved treatment outcomes. While dosages are getting bigger, most people with a chronic condition prefer small packs as they enable discretion, portability and convenience. Research even indicates that packs that are too bulky may even compromise patient compliance efforts in drug delivery.


In light of these trends in drug development, global reach and operational and sustainability strategies, polymer-based films for blister packaging technologies are becoming critical. Not only do they offer big improvements in barrier protection compared to other transparent films, they also enable up to 55 per cent size reductions over cold-formed foils, contributing to goals linked to sustainability, energy reduction, shelf-space maximisation at wholesalers and pharmacies, and pack portability for patients.

On a greater scale this packaging supports progress towards the overarching goal of a significant reduction in cost of goods (CoGs), primarily as a result of smarter packaging processes, fewer packaging options and optimum utilisation of capital equipment.

Moreover, adopting a comprehensive and rationalised packaging strategy also plays well to a sustainability agenda focused on achieving demonstrable reductions in consumed energy and waste – and the associated benefits linked to environmental impact and cost of shipping.

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Daniel Nott is the Business Leader for Honeywell’s Healthcare and Packaging business for Europe, Middle East and Africa, within Honeywell Performance Materials and Technologies. He is based in Heverlee, near Brussels, Belgium. Daniel has worked on promoting the values of Honeywell’s films within the region for pharmaceutical packaging of moisture-sensitive drug formulations, with a strong focus on thermoformed blister packaging. Before Honeywell, Daniel held a variety of sales and marketing positions in the US and Europe. He received an MBA in 1999 from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and an engineering degree in 1994 in Mechanical Systems Engineering from the University of Technology in Compičgne, France. He is Six Sigma Black Belt trained and Green Belt certified.
Daniel Nott
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