Flexibility and sustainability revisited

Matthias Heinrichs, Head of Product Management and Project Engineering, Syntegon Technology informs that patients not only need more self-control in drug administration but are also demanding more sustainability as he elaborates on the growth drivers of pharma packaging

Apart from the omnipresent fight against COVID-19, two further trending topics are currently being discussed in the pharma industry and, most importantly, among patients. The first is flexibility: patients want a better quality of life and more freedom of choice in their medication. The second is sustainability: similar to the food industry, consumers and/or patients are demanding more eco-friendly solutions. Self-medication is a good example of how these concepts can be implemented to a certain extent.

Flexibility is one of the current “buzzwords” in all areas of life. Everyone has a different perception and understanding of the concept in different areas of life. As far as the pharma industry is concerned, patients are looking for ways to improve their quality of life despite needing medication. They want more freedom of choice, and pharma manufacturers want to fulfill this wish with flexible solutions such as devices for self-medication. To the best possible extent, auto-injectors and pen systems give patients back a bit of their independency – which is especially important in times of crisis as we are currently experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A rapidly growing market

In fact, auto-injectors are already the standard equipment for medical emergencies, such as the immediate treatment of an allergic shock. Furthermore, especially patients with chronic diseases like autoimmune diseases or metabolic disorders who require regular medication can benefit from the advances in both biopharma drug development and medical devices. Since they need multiple doses over time for these therapies, it is easier for patients to self-administer the medication at home rather than having to repeatedly go to see the doctor.

According to Verified Market Research, the market for auto injectors is projected to grow at a CAGR of 23.2 per cent from 2019 to 2026. Biosimilar versions are making certain medication with expired patents more accessible to a larger patient population. Traditional self-injection devices, such as standard syringes, are frequently being replaced by technologically advanced autoinjectors and pen systems, which bring a further advantage: they increase patients’ adherence to their prescribed medication. Patients with impaired vision or dexterity also find auto-injectors easier to use compared to syringes. Hence, the demand for self-administrable drugs and medical devices will continue to increase. In parallel, sophisticated equipment and line concepts support pharma manufacturers in meeting the growing needs for solutions that are both flexible to manufacture and easy to administer.

Standardisation meets customisation

Many injector types are made of similar components. However, their design varies in terms of shape, size, and material. To handle all or most of the different variations, pharma manufacturers need a combination of standardisation and flexibility. For state-of-the-art assembly platforms, this is by no means a contradiction. Equipment suppliers such as Syntegon (formerly Bosch Packaging Technology) work closely with customers to design the ideal mix of standardisation and customisation.

For example, assembly platforms such as the RDA from Syntegon can assemble all types of auto-injectors available in the market. This makes it easy to adapt them to current requirements. Available in both a semi automated and a fully automated version, the main features pharma manufacturers rely on area rapid, tool-free changeover and easy operation. Moreover, establishing a flexible assembly process with a minimum of downtime between batches is essential to establish fast, cost-effective production and delivery.

Sustainability in secondary packaging

Once the devices have been assembled, several process steps are required before the drug can be delivered to the patients. The most important one is secondary packaging. Apart from the need for more self-control in drug administration, patients are demanding more sustainability. This not only accounts for food products, where especially younger people demand for high-quality and sustainable packaging solutions with a good look and feel. The demand is also growing in the pharma industry, especially but not exclusively with younger patients.

While most auto-injectors and pens will continue to be manufactured as single-use devices for obvious safety reasons, secondary packaging provides opportunities to answer the demand for resource-saving solutions. Currently, the devices are often packaged in a combination of plastic trays or blisters, combined with folding cartons. While paper is the obvious choice for the outer packaging, the inner lining is just as important. In fact, it can make a crucial difference in increasing sustainability in packaging solutions and processes.

A tried and tested solution

Recyclable solutions made entirely out of paper have already existed for some years, also in the pharma industry, as Syntegon’s all-paper solution Eco | Save | Pack (ESP) shows. The side-loading product inlay with a top-opening carton both consist of mono material paper. A robot places the product in the inlay, where it is firmly fixed and protected. This chambered design makes sure that each device or other primary container such as syringes, ampoules, cartridges, vials or combinations is packaged in a separate chamber. This secures it from dropping, impact and pressure during transportation and storage.

The packaging is easy to handle and to open for practitioners and patients. Removing the product from the inlay is ergonomic, while the inlay is held securely in the re-closable carton tray. Supplements such as patient information leaflets in form of pre-folded inserts, booklets or outserts can be inserted into the packaging. Since no plastic tray is needed with this single packaging material, there is also no need for a thermoforming machine. This in turn reduces space requirements, costs, waste, and energy consumption.

COVID-19eco-friendly solutionflexible assembly processpharma packagingRecyclable solutionssustainabilitySyntegon
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