Change is coming to pharma packaging, predicts Pharmapack Europe speaker. Are you ready?

Daphne Allen in Packaging Design on January 26, 2016

Healthcare systems around the world are under severe pressure to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs. Over the years we’ve shared many insights from packaging experts suggesting that patient-centric packaging (in one format or another) that enables patients to care for themselves as directed could reduce overall healthcare spending.

It’s difficult to disagree, but changing to such patient-centric packaging has been a gradual, almost linear evolution, so the gains may not be keeping up enough to relieve the pressure. Such change typically comes about only after a specific push, such as the design opportunity a new drug or medical device brings, a specific customer or payer request, or regulation. 

But there may be another source of change, and it may not be as gradual. Peter Schmitt, managing director of Montesino Associates, urges the industry to prepare for external drivers of change. He speaks about the growing tension between changes sought by Millennials and the status quo defended by Boomers (incumbents), and he also points out that significant societal changes brought about by disrupters Apple, Google, Amazon, and others may also change healthcare, and therefore change packaging. 

Schmitt will be speaking at Pharmapack Europe February 10 in the presentation, “Boomers, millennials, and the future of packaging materials.”

“Boomers are frustrated about change,” he observes. “But millennials are frustrated that things are changing so slowly.”

First speaking about this phenomenon at Pharmapack North America 2015, Schmitt calls it the “Molecule Centric/Blockbusters versus Patient-Centric/User Interface.” (Read our article on disruption here.)

“Since the 1980s, pharmaceutical packaging supported a molecule-centric business model, one that looked to develop, launch, and maintain new blockbuster molecules in a globally harmonized marketplace,” he says. “As such, the focus of packaging was to remain ‘off of the critical path’ and, rather than focus on ease of use, or new developments that saw packaging supporting compliance or adherence, the primary focus of packaging was accelerating and supporting molecule approvals.” 

But we’re in a different world now, not only because healthcare systems are seeking improved quality in care, but also because patients are, too. Today’s patients are also today’s consumers who are now used to just-in-time, user-centered product innovations that make life easier and more convenient. These patient/consumers are also used to living a connected existence, where information is available at their fingertips.

Pharmaceutical and medical device packaging will need to serve these patient/consumers differently than it has ever done before.

When it comes to packaging materials, Schmitt wonders whether the traditional emphasis on approvals and regulatory concerns may change. “For over 25 years, pharmaceutical packaging materials focused on supporting stability testing and regulatory approval. There are voices today calling for that focus to shift. Will the voices be heard?”

Packaging design, too, may need to focus primarily on the patient and promote safety, compliance, and ease of use. “In the world of Apple, Google, Elon Musk, and others, design and innovation are now critical tools in gaining competitive advantage. Will those voices impact pharmaceutical packaging?” Schmitt asks.

Schmitt will also explore future trends to watch, such as potential shifts to outsourcing to support the search for innovation, the ongoing dilemmas for solid oral doses of rigid versus flexible and bottles versus blisters, and the emerging roles that intelligent packaging could play. “The drive for packaging to communicate with patient and healthcare professional is growing rapidly. Whether driven by regulatory agencies (serialization and traceability) or consumer groups, voices are demanding intelligence and communication in packaging. Will the Internet of Things include pharmaceutical packages?” he asks.

When approaching these issues, Schmitt urges packaging designers to think a little differently. He points to a January 2016 blog by Tor Bair, “Your Life Is Tetris. Stop Playing It Like Chess,” musing that “Pharmaceutical packaging is Tetris. Stop playing it like chess.” 

Schmitt applies Bair's observations to pharmaceutical packaging: “[Bair observes that] chess wires us to think causally. It consists of singular movements; there is a winner and a loser, an 'other' (innovator vs. generic, for example), etc.," says Schmitt. "[As Bair states,] in the game of Tetris, things don’t get harder; they just get faster. As we look at pharmaceutical packaging, Tetris with its many inputs and ever faster changing play offers a strong analogy for the future of pharmaceutical packaging.” 

Schmitt points to “a number of factors accelerating in a direction and randomness continuing to play on a roll, more like Tetris than the famous chessboard.” He points to these factors and asks the following questions:

  • Amazon versus Walmart: what is the future of pharmacies in the distribution of medicine in the United States and globally? 
  • Apple, Google, Facebook: the coming of new players. They want in. Will they succeed? 
  • Smart packaging and regulatory authorities: how will information traditionally conveyed by printing changes and how disruptive will new regulations be to pharmaceutical packaging? 
  • How will packaging interface with smart phones and the Internet of Things? 
  • The User Interface: how will the package itself change, both as a more important part of drug-delivery systems (combination products), and as a way to make it easier for the patient to take drugs?

“If our market moves like the Tetris game flow rather than chess, we may indeed see change and have to (finally) cope with a speed of change that’s new to the industry,” he says.

Attend Pharmapack Europe to hear Schmitt’s presentation along with several other thought-provoking sessions. Schmitt will also be joining me as I moderate a roundtable on packaging innovation.

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I Agree. Its time that we move packagining into the new millenium...