By Chris Waterhouse
For the majority of the Pharmaceutical industry the overwhelming challenge for 2018 remains the ongoing implementation of product, machinery and data management changes to meet the deadlines for serialisation and authentication required within the Falsified Medicines Directive legislation.
The FMD legislation will no doubt contribute to a reduction in the number of fake and counterfeited products in circulation within the Pharmaceutical market. There is however another key challenge affecting product effectiveness and sales, namely Medicinal Non-Compliance.
For example, some 125,000 US deaths per annum are attributed to this, at a financial cost of USD 300bn, it is indeed the number one therapeutic area!! The causes of non-adherence are many and varied but are generally grouped under the banner communication and complexity. The packaging industry is well placed to deliver excellence in this area; introduction of innovation and smart technologies in part through smart packaging solutions and enhanced communication, ultimately improving the patient experience through integration with the Internet of Things (IoT). Both Rx and OTC pharmaceuticals can benefit from these advances.
Advances in print technologies, digital and conventional, combined with the falling cost of the specialist printing inks required are opening the door to enhanced communication, the ability to “print” electronics and add Smart Barcodes. For example the application of an electronic circuit printed onto blister pack foil permits can capture compliance data by producing time stamps which are recorded upon breaking of each individual blister pocket. When uploaded to a cloud based medicinal tracker this data can confirm patient adherence, accuracy of dose. Alternatively, the data could be used by physicians to review treatment regimen and results during patient check-ups. In addition the plethora of electronics that can create buzzers, reminders and alarms all contribute.
Ongoing improvements in decorative print capability have also created late stage customisation opportunities. Advances in direct to container print now allows complex packaging profiles to be printed, transforming packaging immeasurably. A simple asthma inhaler can be converted into a fully printed lifesaving superhero sidekick customised with an image of the child’s favourite character, or for the older generation personalised dosage instructions printed in a large font.
Smart sensor labels can be used to great effect in cold chain packaging. Changing colour at pre-defined temperatures they highlight product spoilage or safety issues; alternatively smart sensors (NFC or RFID) can be scanned with smart devices to confirm product authenticity for patients and consumers, the potential is endless.
Until now, one of the major issues for the pharmaceutical market has always been the unit cost of chip technology, equally the space on packs. Providers have now developed technologies that use existing real estate on the packs, allowing a secure connection between patient and relevant content. A secure 2-way link via the scan of a standard product barcode with a smart device (mobile phone with camera). Once the link is established, a wealth of product information; videos, e-leaflets plus other navigable assets, including ‘talking packaging’ which provides the audio version of key product information spoken in the same language as the settings of the smart device used to scan the product. Bringing security and information to all users whatever their personal needs
Other technologies, perhaps utilising Augmented Reality (AR) are also proving valuable within the wider medical field; providing platforms for remote video support, training aids and real-time overlays for remote surgical procedures. We are increasingly experiencing AR at home most commonly for utilised for immersive gaming experiences, it is but a matter of time before AR is utilised for ‘at-home’ medication uses, maybe visual overlay guides for newly diagnosed diabetics to assist with rotation of insulin injection sites.
The collation of secure patient data supported by smart technologies opens the door for a newer more effective and connected approach to medicinal dispensing. Perhaps utilising a central ‘Amazon Prime’ style dispensing service, implementing late stage customisation of the packs via digital print technologies. The patient prescription(s) could be dispensed and combined into a schedule style packaging format, printed with individual dosage instructions; delivered next-day. This would providing simple management of even the most complex of prescriptions comprising of multiple drugs with varying dosage requirements. Pharmaceutical companies deliver drugs in bulk packaging or individually packed with minimal packaging ready for final dispensing into the individually customised patient pack. All a significant paradigm shift from the convention. What next? E-leaflets?
Whilst FMD would need to revisit individual drug coding, and the key data protection issues would need managing, the growing specialist and complex medicinal needs could be managed and customised regimes scheduled and dispensed always taking the guess work out of the mix for the patient, creating better adherence levels.
The benefits for early adopters of Smart Packaging and codes in Pharma are far reaching. Increased medicinal compliance improves longevity and the quality of life for patients, outcomes are better, reducing pressure on Health Services and Government budgets. For the Pharma industry, improved outcomes achieved via improved compliance will generate increased sales, an increase in perceived brand value and product effectiveness would elevate those early technology adopters to the prescribed ‘brand of choice’ by medicinal practitioners.
Packaging can offer much of benefit. Rather than packaging be the whipping boy of 2018 perhaps these benefits should be better communicated, after all, delivering lifesaving technologies to patients has to be a worthwhile role for the industry.