Patient compliance and adherence affects supply chain efficiency and is an important aspect of a holistic product strategy. Ahead of Pharma IQ’s Pharmaceutical Packaging and Labelling Summit, Komal Mansoor talks to industry expert Prabir Das, head of packaging technical services, Mylan (OSD, India), who shares his insights on the biggest challenges with regards to patient compliance. In addition, Prabir further sheds light on how the materials and machinery used to develop pharmaceutical packaging has changed over the years.

You can also read the full interview here.

Q:  What impact do you feel packaging has on the treatment of a patient? Do you think the industry understands this?

A:   The way packaging connects the product with the patient is crucial to the treatment of the patient.

Every product (whether it is a regular product or a medicinal product) is delivered to the patient in packaging without any other party being involved. Therefore, packaging is the key connector between the product and the patient. The industry is aware of it, but awareness is not uniform across all levels in the industry. The bigger players at the upper segment are aware of its importance and they have full-fledged packaging teams who take care of all these things and design the pack in such a way to ensure high connectivity. These companies tend to have success in delivering their products to the patient.   Other companies are either still reluctant to invest in packaging, or there are sometimes other constraints. Thankfully the pharmaceutical industry is the most-regulated market. If you want to be successful, then you have to deliver what regulators want and what the patients want. So, yes, awareness is there, but it is not uniform.

Q: How have you seen patient compliance change over the last few years, and what developments have been made?

A: Yes, ‘patient compliance’, ‘regulatory compliance’ or ‘quality compliance’ as it is often referred to, have changed a lot to keep pace with the evolutionary process.  It is the law that we have to comply to and takes into consideration the patient’s safety and security needs.

Patient compliance has changed a lot as many value-added features are embedded in packaging now. In the past, packaging was a very simple device only used to carry the product from one place to another. Nowadays, there are many other features available in the packaging.  These ensure the safe and secure delivery of the product, and that the quality of the product remains intact from the first to the last day of expiry. Packaging is not just about the stability of the product, but also about other things like brand authenticity, quality, safety and security.

Q:What do you think are the biggest challenges with regards to patient compliance?

A: Awareness building across the society, affordability and accessibility of medicines in remote places of the country plus having industrial infrastructure are some of the biggest challenges faced by the industry.

When it comes to industrial infrastructure-related issues, things which were possible years ago are not applicable today as the landscape has changed a lot.

For example, fifteen years ago, setup could survive without a proper proactive plan, but in today’s market, it’s not possible without the right infrastructure in place. Other infrastructure related issues could be that they may not have sufficient space for expansion or sufficient capacity to expand.  

Another big challenge is that companies need to invest a lot more budget into things like automation.  Nowadays, investing in automation has become essential because even basic value-added features that are embedded in packaging require a lot of automation and IT infrastructure as well.

Q:   How do you think packaging and labelling affect supply chain efficiency?

A:                    It can be understood like this:

  • Product-Packaging-People connectivity – the process by which People receive the desired Product intact through its effective Packaging.
  • Supply Chain, at the core of the business, ensures alignment of all the internal & external functions to deliver the product in time with right quality & quantity.
  • Internally, R & D-Production-Marketing ensures the Product and its Packaging are designed, developed and produced as people want it.

Packaging and supply chain are the two basic linkages between the product and the patient. It is totally dependent on these two things. Packaging gives stability to the product and ensures the quality of the product – the better the quality; the longer is the product’s shelf-life.

When it comes to supply chain, it should take care of all internal and external threats from the point of production to the point of consumption.

Therefore, the supply chain needs to understand what packaging is doing for the product, and packaging also needs to understand what supply chain will follow during the entire distribution cycle. Both these functions are complementary to each other and guarantee the safety of the patient.

Q: What are the key factors that can help in retaining the quality of the packaging?

A:  The key factors include primary packaging and functional parameters which play a big role in retaining the quality of the product from shop floor up to the final distribution.

Primary packaging takes care of the product’s stability and quality. If primary packaging is strong enough to take care of the product from all kinds of external conditions such as heat, moisture, light or anything, it will safeguard the quality of the product.

The next step in packaging involves functional parameters such as branding, transportation or displaying product on the shelf.

Q: What are the challenges being faced by the companies in the various stages of packaging and labelling development?

A:  There are many chalenges. Initially, packaging was very simple. It was just a box containing the product. Now, a lot of other things have come into the picture, now the development of packaging and labelling involves printing, coding, labelling, child-resistance, senior-friendly, and tamper-evident features of packaging. Also, there are different kinds of regulations which companies need to comply to control the safe use of the product.

Now, regulatory text needs to be included in labelling, but the challenge is that many of the packaging sizes are too small to accommodate all those texts which will comprise statutory and regulatory requirements. Other technologies like pictograms and the mnemonics are being used to depict certain things through images.

 Apart from variable data, it requires certain electronic data such as linear or 2D barcode. It is very difficult for the packaging specialist to accommodate all these quality, safety and security requirements, as well as regulatory requirements.

Another big challenge is that patients also need to understand what is inside the packaging, how to use the product and how to dispense it. All these things have now become part of the various stages of packaging, which helps them to use the product safely and securely.

At the same time, it has to be child-resistant and senior-friendly also. Senior friendly means it helps older people to remember their medication. All these features are now part of packaging.

 All the stages mentioned above have to be incorporated in the development of packaging and labelling which is quite hard to do and therefore, it is the biggest challenge for the companies. If they get all these elements right, then good packaging itself can help to promote and sell the product.

Q: In the next couple of years, what would you like to see in terms of innovation in packaging and labelling?

A:  For packaging, I think there are three areas where I would like to see innovation. One is material and process-related innovation – these are the basic materials which actually help to retain the quality of the products.

The second area is design-related innovation. The material may be similar but if you do the design differently, you can add value to the pack.

The third area is completely dependent on customer, that is, customer-driven innovation. It means certain segments of customers require certain packaging features.

In the case of medicine, customer-driven choices are less compared to material and design because there the product safety and product stability is more important than a patient’s choice.

The patient only needs convenience, for example, is the medicine easy to dispense? Is it easy to take the medicine? In pharmaceutical industry, patient convenience is very important.

These material and design-related innovations are happening, but material innovation is a very slow and long-term process whereas design or application-oriented innovations are happening quite often.

While many of the features are now driven through digital technology, there are examples of using Wireless Communication also. The best solutions come when multiple technologies are blended together to create a patient friendly feature.

To sum up, these are the three areas to innovate material-wise, design-wise or via some customer-driven requirements through latest technology blending process.