The Challenges of Primary Packaging in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Pharmaceutical Packaging

Packaging can prove to be a challenge in many industries, but it can be especially problematic in the pharmaceutical industry. This is, in large part, due to the sensitive nature of the contents within the packaging. If not stored and transported properly, medicines and other supplies can become compromised and quickly lose their effectiveness. And that’s just one of many problems. Packaging development, therefore, has to be a top priority for pharmaceutical companies. 

This blog will run through some of the biggest challenges of primary packaging in pharma. 

Packing and Shipping

In many cases, the standard, rectangular boxes in which medication is packaged is the most suitable solution. They are easy to handle, easy to stack and provide a fair amount of space for relaying information on the outside of the box. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s a failsafe option. Some medicines, such as those stored within glass vials, glass bottles, or plastic bottles, are not suitable for stacking. A custom-made approach will be necessary for medicines that need these types of containers. 

Ensuring Medicines Retain Their Effectiveness

Many medicines lose their effectiveness if stored outside certain temperatures and conditions. Making sure that the packaging meets the requirements of the medicine must be one of the key phases in packaging development. The majority of medicine packaging will keep moisture out of the medicine by default. In instances when a specific temperature is required, pharmaceutical companies can use shipping boxes with insulation lining. 

Printed Information On The Packaging

It is often illegal to sell medicine without providing certain pieces of information on the outside of the packaging. This is illegal for an obvious reason; nurses and patients must be able to readily understand what is contained within the box. Information that must be printed on the box includes:

  • The composition of the medicine.
  • The expiry date.
  • The batch serial number, for traceability purposes.
  • The dosage information.
  • Any relevant warnings.

Not all of these items of information will be required in all countries. The packaging must meet the requirements of the country/state where the medicine will be sold.

Preparing for Various Markets

Pharmaceutical companies often make their products available across the globe. While this is good for business, it can present various issues during the packaging development process. For instance, the standards relating to the serial numbers of the medicine will be different depending on the country. Plus, there’s often a question of branding: the same drug may be marketed under a different name from one country to the next. So even though the differently marketed drugs come from the same production line, different packaging and labels are required. 

Packaging For New Medicines

There are always new medicines being developed. And while that’s a positive thing for the world, it does create issues with packaging: oftentimes, a recently-developed medicine will require the development of new packaging that has been created with that specific medicine in mind. This is a challenge that takes time, and a lot of work, to overcome. Some liquid formulations do not respond well to glass vials, resulting in flaking. The usual method for lubricating the plunger for pre-filled syringes was to add silicone oil. But this can have an impact on the protein complexes of the medicine. As such, packaging companies are now developing new packaging types that can accommodate new, complex medicines. 

Genuine Trust

It’s no secret that counterfeit drugs are an issue within the pharmaceutical industry. This doesn’t just impact the profits of pharmaceutical companies; it also impacts consumer trust, not to mention consumer safety. To combat this issue, companies are investing in packaging that shows that the products contained within the packaging are genuine. Some examples of anti-counterfeit packaging include boxes with scannable codes or hologram stickers, which are used to secure the box closing. There are also many tamper-proof processes used, including tear tape seals, colour shifting inks, and IR and UV sensitive inks. 

Scannable Codes For Inventory Management

Not all modern pharmaceutical packaging solutions are designed with medicine in mind. Some exist to make inventory management easier. In an age when there are more medicines than ever before, and when many are stored within the same facility, it’s important that healthcare facilities and intermediaries can quickly identify their stock. Scannable barcodes are used to facilitate inventory management. In other cases, a barcode may be present to give additional information to the end-user. 

Adding a barcode, while useful, can be challenging from a space perspective. The packaging must be able to host the barcode along with all the other legally required information. 

Child-Safety Issues

Ensuring that the public is safe from accidental poisoning is a key factor in the world of pharmaceutical packaging. This is why any warnings must be clearly labelled on the outside of the medicine. But written warnings on the packaging can only do so much — it can’t do everything. Sometimes, extra steps are needed. Pharmaceutical companies have a responsibility to ensure the maximum safety of their products for all users, and that includes people who are unable to read, such as children. 

Packaging must therefore be a balancing act between making the contents difficult for children to access but easy for adults, and especially older adults, to open. 

Eco-Friendly Packaging

Some packaging issues apply to all industries. This is the case with eco-friendly packaging. In an age when there’s more pressure to develop sustainable packaging than ever, pharmaceutical companies must work towards ensuring that their packaging is eco-friendly. However, unlike other industries, they must do so while working within all the other requirements that their packaging must meet.

How the Pharmaceutical Industry Will Overcome These Challenges

It’s not a matter of if the pharmaceutical industry will overcome these challenges, but when. Already, we’ve seen many smart developments that ensure the safe and secure transportation of temperamental medicines. And with R&D investment, more solutions will come.