Pharmaceuticals to Embrace Sensory Packaging

Our five senses — taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell — allow our body to take everything in. The more senses are used, the better the memory, and the process enhanced. Here’s how this theory applies to drug development, packaging design, and patient experience.

Pascale Gauthier, Pharmacist PhD

May 21, 2024

4 Min Read
Five human senses
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Pharmapack once again established itself as the unmissable event in the health sector for a comprehensive overview of packaging innovations. Trends and tomorrow’s packaging options were also studied there and focusing on compliance remains a key factor for treatment efficiency.

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A clear understanding of the medication is fundamental and means that the treatment is adapted to the patients, whatever their specificities (age, disabilities) and that the drug forms themselves are made with the best design. But can we go further and offer a suitable treatment using all resources, including the five human senses — taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell?

During a panel session at Pharmapack 2024, a discussion focused on activating the senses for better compliance. Here are the highlights:

Taste.

Taste is largely taken into account, especially for younger children or babies for widely used suspensions and oral solutions, with aroma remaining a key element for treatment acceptance, too.

For the children, the challenge is to develop a tasty drug that does not invite over-consumption. Childproof systems that offer protection against ingress have been largely developed for bottles, pillboxes, or secondary boxes.

Taste fundamentals for the youngest patient is also important for adults (including seniors), in case of a swallowing problem, especially for chronic treatments requiring long-term use. A coating can help solid forms for swallowing, but using minigranules or multiparticles can be another option where taste is fundamental.

Going further, a specific aroma can be chosen that helps patients remember to take their medication [1]. Such proposals have been noticed for pulmonary administration for drug powder inhaler where a small amount of powder is efficient that an aroma is needed as signal of taking medication. With the largest development of paper/pulp blister, maybe a taste can be printed on that primary pack. Can that be an idea to follow?

Touch.

Touch is already largely used with the shape of devices adapted for the elderly, or disabled persons. Numerous devices (such as pen injectors and autoinjectors) integrate an ergonomic design approach for creating better products.

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Better gripping (also seen for pill boxes, or ophthalmic forms) favors better use for drug forms. Injectable forms have also clearly developed needle protection for safe injection to avoid injuries.

Specific shapes or adaptation on secondary boxes of medicines has been required since 2011 (rules regarding tamper-evident packaging for prescribed drug forms, for example). Systems appear that prioritize safety before first opening as one more step against counterfeiting.

Sight.

Vision is fully used with clear colors and pictograms; and is the largest communication effect for all secondary packaging of drug forms. Ages, galenical form, and numerous dosage indications can provide a therapeutic education for users [2].

Generic forms have also fully implemented this idea of clarification. Boxes are sometimes awarded in this area — for example Teva scale Pharmapack 2015 Award for Centricity. The popular wallet packs multiply a clear vision of treatment organization, with a sustainability approach, and now incorporating digital technology (a tag connected to an app, for example) for a real and simple tutorial.

Hearing.

Hearing is a sense integrated for a clear and audible information on products, with tags printed on secondary boxes linked with digital elements. These digital packages can relay information/sounds or videos via apps on a smart phone. “The box that speaks” to the patient, explaining the use of the drug, is now a reality thanks to digital technology and is in development by many manufacturers.

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Sounds can be helpful in the world of injectable devices, too, to indicate when products have been reconstituted, for example, and add another safety check for better use of the devices [3]. A similar idea is also proposed for drug powder inhalers, where an audible click tells you that the dose is made available, a useful element to avoid overdosing.

Smell.

At last, smell is certainly underused despite studies that emphasize it is one of the most important senses, with odor memorization at 35% vs. 5% for vision and only 2% for sound.

The smell of the drug can be used as a signal for memorizing the medical dose. Why not use a specific odor integrated in a paper blister or pill boxes (or printed on a desiccant?) that can present a smell to help people take medication?

Integrating sensorial packaging in the pharma universe appears as a reality today, with numerous clever options that add safety or improve observance. Definitely more ideas can be developed in next future, for a fantastic story to follow.

References:

1 – Draft Guideline on Pharmaceutical Development of Medicines for Paediatric Use; European Medicine Agency: London, UK, 2011; EMA/CHMP/QWP/180157/2011.

­2 – Gauthier, P. ‘Le packaging pharma à l’ère du less is better.’ The Pharmaceutical Post 08, 90-96, October 2021.

­3 – Gauthier, P. ‘L’univers des injectables un secteur au design sur-mesure.’ Dose 72, 2018, 78-88.

About the Author(s)

Pascale Gauthier

Pharmacist PhD, Auvergne University

Dr. Pascale Gauthier is a pharmacist (D.Pharm) with background research from Auvergne University — Masters in Biopharmaceutical, a specific Master (DEA) in Pharmacokinetics, and a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Technology. She is in charge of courses in Auvergne University and is involved with several patents, international publications, and conferences. Her research is focused on modified release forms, pharmaceutical design and categories of users, and digital in the area of health, as well as innovative packaging and formulations in cosmetics. Reach her at [email protected].

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