Packaging is an often overlooked element of the life science supply chain but the industry needs to step up quality and foster innovation in order to keep up with developments and society’s concerns. Innovation in packaging is a big element in cost control, sustainability and safety.
Packaging of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other life science products is extremely critical. For example, many pharmaceutical compounds can be damaged by excessive heat or freezing, resulting in reduced efficacy or even risking patient safety. The right conditions, such as temperature and humidity, also need to be maintained throughout the entire cold chain. Since pharmaceuticals and medical devices can be delivered in all forms and shapes, including solid dosages, liquids, capsules and filled syringes, all with different required conditions, this further adds complexity to the packaging problem.
“The industry has too much faith in existing systems and expects the forwarding companies to take over the responsibility to maintain required temperatures. Which they very often are not experienced or equipped to do. However, if patient safety is at risk it becomes a very important issue. We aim to help our clients by making them more aware of the consequences and what their specific products require in order to maintain quality during transportation,” says Thomas Björk , founder and CEO of Aircontainer Package Systems (APS) which develops systems for packing for the life science industry.
In the past 10-20 years there has been a proliferation of companies that manufacture containers and package systems to protect temperature-sensitive products during transportation and have optimized thermal properties. There are also certified containers and temperature monitors/indicators or data loggers which should be able to verify that the products have been transported under the right conditions.
Safety comes first
This global and constantly growing pharmaceutical sector also adds a safety factor to the industry.
“Governments globally are already enforcing the legislation for stopping drug counterfeiting and adjacent illicit business. For example, at Orion we have started a project to enhance supply chain security and patient safety as well as to combat counterfeiting. European legislation mandates serialization (unique numbering of sales packages) and tamper-evident solutions for medicinal packages. This challenge we have taken on in one of our most important development projects, which requires new innovations in our packaging lines. Serialization and tamper-evidence will be a prerequisite for patient safety in the future,” says Terhi Ormio, Vice President of Communications at Orion Corporation. The company has for example generated a new layout for generic Rx products to improve patient safety and usability.
“Therapy areas are now also indicated by color codes. The aim of this improvement is to secure safe use for patients and to minimize the risk of dispensing medication errors in pharmacies,” says Terhi Ormio.
Sustainability – reduce, reuse and recycle
The pharmaceutical industry, just like any other industry, has great responsibility. It not only has the task of producing qualitative, impeccable and safe to use pharmaceuticals, but it also has a responsibility for a sustainable society. Packing solutions have the potential to make a major contribution to a more sustainable life science industry, through packaging waste reduction, minimizing pack sizes, improving transportation costs through improved pallets and packaging, and many other ways.
“Pharmaceutical companies are more aware of their carbon emissions today and improved packaging is slowly becoming a competitive advantage,” says Kristian Sibilitz, Vice President of Global Supply Chain at Lundbeck. “When developing our supplier portfolio we are in dialogue with our suppliers to discuss how we can reduce carton amounts without jeopardizing quality, and we aim to work with suppliers who have a strategy for reduction of CO2 emissions. As an example, our suppliers must be in compliance with the packaging and packaging waste directive 94/62/EC: Entailing requirements for product content and recoverability.”
Lundbeck is also trying to reduce the scrapping of finished goods and packaging material. As a consequence of changes to packaging material, which is largely driven by authorities, there is a risk of scrapping finished goods and packaging material.
“Last year we implemented a new process that allows a smooth transition from “old” to “new” packaging material, which in the first 12 months has resulted in a 25% reduction in scrapping of printed packaging materials (cartons, leaflets and labels), equivalent to 15 tonnes,” continues Kristian Sibilitz.
“All the printed packaging materials (cartons, labels and patient information leaflets) that are used in Orion production are today bleached without chlorine gas. These materials don’t contain PVC,” says Terhi Ormio. The company has also started a project for a new centralized warehouse and packaging operations in Salo, Finland. The process from ordering materials to the finished product will be optimized with new and modern techniques and packaging lines. Production will start there in early 2014.
Photo cred: Lundbeck