Blister packaging leads the way

December 17, 2015

7 Min Read
Blister packaging leads the way

Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News staff

by Erik Swain, Senior Editor

The pharmaceutical industry has taken off in the 1990s, and the pharmaceutical packaging industry has gone along for the ride. Whether both industries can keep up their astonishing growth in the future is unknown. But as the market gets hit with more and more new drugs, as drug companies delve more into the dietary supplement sector, and as new regulations emerge that require packaging solutions, the need for innovations in packaging increases.

According to The Freedonia Group Inc. (Cleveland), the U.S. pharmaceutical packaging market is expected to increase 3.6% annually to $4.2 billion in 2002. The research firm expects profits at the major drug companies to decline from current levels because of increasing generic competition. That, in turn, will produce greater pressure to keep operating and production costs down, and packaging is expected to be part of that trend.

There are significant opportunities for packaging in that climate, the Freedonia study says. Most drug companies recognize that packaging can add to the bottom line by attracting consumers and healthcare practitioners, by cutting pilfering and counterfeiting, by adding to product shelf lives, and by improving patient compliance with drug regimens. Packaging that enhances ease of use, aesthetic value, barrier properties, or security features will experience the greatest sales growth. The types of packaging expected to produce above-average growth in the near future include plastic bottles, unit-dose blister packages, prefillable inhalers, closures that are both child resistant and senior friendly, and package inserts.


Blister packages are expected to attain the most dollar growth, rising from $810 Million in 1997 to $1.06 billion in 2002, achieving 37% of the $2.86 billion market for primary containers. Such growth will be spurred by new regulations for clinical trial medications, iron supplements, appetite suppressants, and other measures promoting safety or compliance. Plastic bottles are expected to grow from $650 Million to $780 Million, for a 27% share, and will be helped by the increasing popularity of herbal medicines and dietary supplements. Pouches and strip packs will reach $245 Million in 2002, small-volume parenterals $183 Million, tubes $145 Million, and large-volume parenterals $133 Million. Glass, however, is expected to decline from $73 Million to $47 Million.

Secondary pharmaceutical packages will grow from $400 Million in 1997 to $450 Million in 2002, the Freedonia study says. Demand will grow because of the increased use of decorative boxes on drugs switched from prescription to over-the-counter (OTC) and from an increase in generic OTC drugs. Among shipping containers, convertible display cartons will see the most growth as the battle for attention from consumers intensifies. The Paperboard Packaging Council (Alexandria, VA) expects shipments of folding cartons to grow 1.9% per year through 2002, according to its 1998 Paperboard Packaging Trends.

Of the other packaging forms, closures should increase from $340 Million in 1997 to $395 Million in 2002, prescription containers from $135 Million to $160 Million, and packaging accessories from $235 Million to $280 Million. Calendar blister packs and time-advance plastic vials should do particularly well because of dosage scheduling advantages.

Labeling demand is expected to be healthy as well. A Freedonia study projects 7.2% annual growth up to 2002 for labels across all industries. But the pharmaceutical industry may outpace that, especially because of the new OTC labeling regulations. To make warnings and directions more readable and understandable to consumers, all OTC drugs must adopt a specific style and format, most by April 16, 2001.


Pharmaceutical packaging machinery is expected to perform particularly well in the coming year. According to a buyer intention study by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI; Arlington, VA), the pharmaceutical and medical sector will have the most demand for packaging machinery of any sector in the next year.

There are several factors that explain why demand in the pharmaceutical industry is so high right now, says Ben Miyares, vice president, industry relations, PMMI. "We are seeing pharmaceutical companies consolidate production facilities, but expand their production needs at the same time," he says. "We are seeing an awareness on the part of the pharmaceutical manufacturer to invest in technology to improve line efficiencies, more so than in other industries. And any time you have the kind of regulation that this industry has, it has a stimulating effect on machinery purchases. The status quo is not seen as good enough, and the question becomes how to comply with new regulations in the most economical fashion."


As outsourcing becomes a more popular way to keep drug companies' costs down and profits up, use of contract packagers will increase. "We see a lot of plant rationalization and capacity rationalization" among drug companies, says Tim McBride, vice president of sales and marketing at Sharp Corp. (Conshohocken, PA). "The moves that come out of that have been clearly more positive than negative toward outsourcing. We don't think that applies universally. Some decide to bring things back inside. Hot spots for contract packaging include blisters, carded blisters, and increased-volume bottles."


Specialty packaging of all varieties is much sought after. With the advent of more biosensitive drugs, and with tougher shelf-life standards devised by the International Conference on Harmonization (ICH), demand is strong for packaging that can provide a high barrier against moisture or oxygen.

"From a technology viewpoint the most exciting area is the new drug delivery technologies. New oral medication delivery technologies, taste masking, and quick-dissolve technologies will all drive the need for high-barrier packaging solutions," says Peter J. Schmitt, principal of consulting firm Montesino Associates (Wilmington, DE). "In terms of materials used to provide this barrier, there are several things to watch for next year. New machinery technologies should allow cold-formed foil to be formed at higher speeds at better yields. Next year should also see the first medium-barrier packages using cyclic-olefin structures. Watch for legislation requiring product to be delivered to patients in the original package."

In addition, with the increased competition on retail shelves, packages that can be made to look as attractive and as sophisticated as cosmetic products are at an advantage.


Even as suppliers come up with new products and services, drug companies will demand that they keep costs down.

"Customers are more and more requiring organizations to be able to do more of their packaging from a holistic standpoint," says Renard Jackson, executive vice president, Packaging Coordinators Inc. (Philadelphia). "They want us to supply components, such as cartons and inserts, and marry these things together under a one-invoice turnkey program. That offers the management of a project under one organization and leads to vendor consolidation."

Another trend is increasing enforcement of child-resistant, senior-friendly packaging by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The agency is currently reevaluating its standards for unit packaging, and it will be attempting to regulate physician samples and clinical trial packages. Also, a global standard for unit-dose CR packaging could emerge.

Also on the regulatory front, FDA will be scrutinizing material choices more closely, says D. Bruce Cohen, director, packaging technology, at Glaxo Wellcome Inc. (Research Triangle Park, NC). "They seem to be looking for more and more technical information, things typically not put in a new drug application," he says. "We have to try to include more detail on our materials and additives. Suppliers will have to be very consistent in what they do and how they make changes to things. We had used generic high-density polyethylene in the past, and it had incidental [product] contact. Now FDA is asking for specific resins and specific additives for that. That puts a lot of pressure on people."


Recent years have been active ones for the pharmaceutical packaging industry, and upcoming years should be no different. The challenges facing package engineers include promoting compliance, security, and shelf presence. They must find cost-effective designs that provide exceptional barrier protection but are also child resistant and senior friendly. It will take a lot of creative thinking to invent more effective, more attractive packages that don't cost any more. However, if the past is any indication, the packaging industry will rise to the challenge.

 Opening photo by Roni Ramos

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