Dr Andreas Mattern, Director Product Management Pharma, Syntegon Technology (formerly Bosch Packaging Technology) discusses the impact of COVID-19 on pharma packaging, emerging trends, challenges and opportunities in this sphere as well as his company’s offerings and initiatives to empower pharma companies, with Lakshmipriya Nair
From an evolutionary point of view, how has COVID-19 impacted the pharma packaging sector?
The main impacts of COVID-19 are rather on the product and production side and do not necessarily affect pharma packaging. Negative effects are, above all, to be found in the disruption of supply chains and planned or ongoing clinical trials, which might delay the introduction of new drugs. According to Global Data, 1,265 trials have been disrupted as of June 1. On the other hand, there are also positive effects: COVID-19 is advancing emerging technologies like mRNA vaccines and telehealth services. Moreover, the pandemic is pushing for stronger collaborations between academia, start-ups and the pharma industry, fostering some interesting alliances.
As far as production is concerned, we see the re-activation and re-dedication of established lines to produce COVID-related products throughout the industry. In this context, Syntegon is able to support with fast spare parts supply and the implementation of modernisations and modifications on extremely short delivery schedules worldwide. Syntegon also facilitates our customers’ investments in new equipment thanks to our modular approach and consistent prioritisation of such important projects.
Many contract manufacturers were already operating at capacity limits before the pandemic and have experienced a further boost in both clinical and commercial batches. Consequently, we expect further investments in production capacities, especially in our highly efficient and flexible fill-finish equipment.
Specifically in India, our joint venture partner Klenzaids has a lot of activities going on to support pharmaceutical manufacturers and testing and research labs in the fight against the pandemic: Klenzaids offers on-site and off-site support for several Indian key laboratories – including ICMR’s National Institute of Virology’s Biosafety Lab, which was also originally designed and built by Klenzaids. Moreover, Klenzaids is supplying equipment for R&D and testing facilities such as isolators for animal testing of COVID vaccine candidates, VHP and H202 fogging modules, safe sample collection booths as well as biosafety cabinets at extremely short delivery times. What’s more, the company is producing face masks and gowns along with the equipment.
The outbreak of the pandemic also had a general impact on daily work. We observe a pull for remote services and support solutions. Also, machine suppliers with a strong global service network like Syntegon can easily refer to local service technicians and are less affected by travel restrictions compared to smaller companies without such a global network.
On the packaging material side, we predict a huge boost for suppliers of glass containers and rubber stoppers. There is very likely going to be a capacity bottleneck in glass vials and syringes if a vaccine is found and a global rollout is coming in 2021. This has raised interest in alternative technologies like polymer vials and pre-filled syringes manufactured using blow-fill-seal technology.
What are the emerging trends in this sector? Which ones are here to stay or which will prove to be transitory in nature? Why?
On the drug side, it will largely depend on which vaccines will ultimately prove successful. This could also be a strong door opener for technologies like mRNA vaccines for other diseases. We expect a general increase in R&D regarding infectious diseases, possibly also investments in more robust supply chains and pandemic precautions.
C(D)MOs will continue to stay in high demand. The trend towards digital solutions, especially for remote service and support is going to stay. The same is true for the need for efficient but flexible production equipment – here the underlying drivers are not only to be found in the pandemic but also in general requirements for fast and cost-effective drug production.
Time will show how successful new packaging materials prove and how they fare compared to established technologies in a normal commercial environment beyond this pandemic.
How will the pandemic advance traceability goals for pharma across the globe? Are we likely to see any major regulatory changes in this sphere? If yes, how will the role of packaging change or transform to help pharma companies improve compliance?
There are no significant regulatory changes expected for drug products since most major markets have already implemented corresponding regulations. We could, however, witness a boost in digital logistics solutions to improve supply chain transparency and support continuity of supply and business. This was already happening before the pandemic and could be a door opener for emerging technologies like blockchain.
Tell us about your pharma packaging technologies which are pivotal in empowering and enabling pharma companies to build more secure supply chains and enhance protection to their products?
To protect fragile containers and use a sustainable packaging solution at the same time, Syntegon’s all-paper solution ‘Eco Save Pack’ presents a good alternative. It was developed for side-loader cartoners but with a top opening. Both the carton and the inlay of the environmentally friendly secondary packaging consist of mono-material paper. The inlays are erected and formed on Syntegon cartoning machines. Eco Save Pack saves plastic and stands out with its high-quality appearance.
For improved traceability and transparency of the supply chain, Syntegon has developed the new Single Object Data Acquisition (SODA) technology. A data matrix code attached to the container or closure contains all object-related and process-specific data of the container and can be read with a scanner. This means that valuable information collected during production can now be assigned to individual containers and traced in a structured manner. This opens up a wide range of possibilities for our customers to make their production safer and to react individually in case of complaints.
Combined with the Smart Containers from primary packaging manufacturer SCHOTT, the Syntegon SODA system offers a very special advantage: the primary packaging materials are initially provided with a unique data matrix code to ensure traceability throughout the entire manufacturing process. The codes are scanned by cameras that can be used to equip and retrofit filling and closing machines as well as upstream and downstream equipment. If required, the recorded information can be retrieved and analysed for each individual container at any time.
To support open standards in serialisation, Syntegon recently joined the Open Serialization Communication Standard (OPEN-SCS) Group. The joint goals include the fight against pharma counterfeiting and the establishment of interoperable interfaces for the implementation of adequate serialisation solutions. Apart from the fact that saving lives through anti-counterfeiting measures is an excellent reason, we also firmly believe in open digital worlds and open platforms. Customers should have no constraints. Mixed systems with machines and software from different suppliers will become standard. The same will apply to interfaces. In fact, OPC UA is already implemented as a standard interface today.
How can pharma manufacturers prepare for future trends? And, how can Syntegon Technology help advance the capabilities of pharma companies to become future-ready?
Pharma manufacturers are best prepared for future trends if they invest in flexible, highly reliable equipment from suppliers that closely monitor the industry trends, have deep manufacturing, pharma and software knowledge and work with their customers in close partnerships. Moreover, a machine supplier with a strong global service competence and availability significantly helps to implement required changes in a short timeframe, for example by modifying equipment for changing demands and regulatory environments. Open standards further promote this flexibility by ensuring easy upgrades and future interoperability.