Fortunes get made all the time out of misfortunes. The pharma industry stands out as a shining example of this phenomenon. No one willed it that way. Nevertheless, it does go in that direction.
That said, it’s one thing to mitigate miseries and make money, and quite another to do it in ways that help everyone including the recipient of medication, the pharma industry and the environment around us. And in that, drug delivery systems and the idea of dosage forms play a very important and central role. Getting the desired amount of medication at the right time and place (in the body) can mean the difference between a healthy life and often an unnecessary side effect.
And it’s precisely the drug delivery systems, and more so in the Indian context that needs to be seen in a new light that takes into account a lot many things, including a young, well-articulated populace.
The delivery systems for consumer products have been the same for decades: The first thing that comes to mind in the name of consumption or application of medication either are syringes, big fat pills and messy creams. In the Indian context, these remain still in use and to an extent preferred for varied reasons including a certain resistance from medical practitioners of a certain age and background who seemed entirely at ease with the existing order. Their patients too pull along and don’t seem to complain.
Things though need a change. Let us take some simple examples, who wants dietary supplements as tablets? Maybe, food supplements that can be mixed either with food or water and eaten as part of a meal may just make life simple for so many of us. As for its efficacy, there are reasons behind its being one of the most effective and efficient ways to promote drug dosage delivery. It does not affect the normal consumption of foods, needs nothing extra (like un-gulpable pills or frightful needles) and best of all, does not require any extra medical attention- something that’s always the bane with other forms of medication. With the right flavours and tastes, consuming medication in fact turns into a much-anticipated activity. With the medication itself coming in sealed packs, issues to do with reduced efficacy, pilferage, contamination etc. do not arise.
The next in line to see change are pills! The very young and the very old always found swallowing pills be it solid or in capsule form both impossible and inconvenient. Add to that those with obvious problems (including a general dislike) with swallowing and what you get is a sizeable number who could do with an alternative system of drug delivery. In more matured markets in the west, and even in India in the present, there exist alternatives in the form of effervescent and chewable tablets, lozenges, orally disintegrating granules (ODGs) and instant drinks that could do the job just as effectively if not better. What it calls for is just a slight change in mindset to do the needful. In fact, the apparent advantages presented by pills and capsules including ease in storage, reduced chances of pilferage and tampering and easy transport are all available to the other alternatives suggested above.
The last in line is greasy and messy creams! When was the last time you applied a cream or ointment or balm which while being effective just stayed on the skin and got smeared to your clothes, linen and furniture? Not exactly unheard of, and which most of us encounter at some time or the other, they nevertheless leave behind tell-tale marks on the skin and clothes. In some cases, because of their greasy nature, they may attract other pathogens and add to the complication. Why not try patches? It is practically the same delivery system with the added benefit of controlled drug release. For a lot of general conditions, this delivery system can simply add a lot of value to the consumer.
Why is change needed in dosage forms?
Indians, like the rest of the world, have gone through a lot in the last three to four decades. Having travelled the world and otherwise seeing it on TV and now the internet, exposure to things outside India in the field of medicines has only increased. In the recent past (and continuing into the present), events like the pandemic have exposed India and Indians to all the latest in the field of medical dosages the world over. This is making the populace very choosey in the forms in which they would like to consume their medication. In fact, just this fact could affect the overall demand for certain brands over time. The E Pharmacy portals are opening new avenues of information and choices to the consumer.
– Technology has made it possible to change dosage forms
Take the example of pre-filled syringes. The technology is slowly but surely making its presence felt even in India though in small numbers more in the nature of test cases. That said, there may in time be quite some need for such newer forms of drug dosage dispersals to catch up. What is heartening though is that the medical fraternity and companies themselves feel the need to accept the latest inventions and work along with them in the right spirits.
– The need for reduced wastage, pilferage and contamination
The Covid-19 vaccines could be the perfect example of the issue of wastage, pilferage and contamination in the logistics leg of drug delivery- though in no way alluding to the exercise, one of the biggest in recorded history having these factors in sizable and visible numbers. That said, in order to reduce unintended wastage and contamination, one of the best ways could be the adoption of the latest technology in drug dosage delivery!
– The need to retain customers!
The tail too can sometimes wag the dog! And it’s the best example is the existential dilemma that the pharma industry faces today of customers walking away to those products which give them what they want- in the form they prefer. Agreed that the field of medicines is way different from FMCG, foods and beverages, but being spoilt for choices, and the medical practitioners themselves recommending safer and better options, it’s only a question of time before survival and customer retention would drive pharma companies to accept the latest in drug dosage delivery.
– The need to build a brand!
What is needed to build strong brands in today’s fast-changing world? AUSP will connect with the buyer. In real terms, it should give the consumer a better experience compared to the other options. Everything else aside, it would create a brand no one would forget in a hurry.
– The need to increase bottom lines while keeping competition at bay!
Pharma in its more generic parts is all about quantities. Where differentiators decrease, so do profits. And in comes the need to produce in ever larger quantities just to stay afloat. One of the best ways to buck this trend is to create obvious differentiators – including in the way medicine doses are administered. By creating a customer recall and a solid USP, it helps the brand command a premium over others in the same which going forward adds greatly to the bottom lines. As for competition, they either have to better themselves or be content playing second fiddle.
The way ahead?
– Identify demographic-specific dosage forms which will resolve basic issues faced by users
Demographics show marked differences in the way and form in which they consume medicines. Those at the bottom of the pyramid may make do with what is available while moving up could invariably see a shift to better and more user-friendly forms of drug dosage delivery systems. In the Indian context, things in the present are quite fluid in that those at the bottom too may aspire to consume medicines in forms outside their reach. That being the case, a continuing study of demographics could be called for along with continuing education of the targeted customers.
– Plan investment in research and development to focus on dosage forms
Moving with times has its advantage over knee-jerk reactions. The same applies to investing in R&D in a planned manner with foresight. While smoothening the way ahead, such an approach also helps understand the final consumer’s needs as also the need to tweak things.