Pharma supply chain management and packaging in 2020

Hand holding packageto show Pharma supply chain management and packaging in 2020

Rich Quelch, Global Head of Marketing at Origin, looks at what we can expect from pharma supply chain management and packaging in 2020?

Considered by many as a fresh start, the New Year – and in this case a new decade – brings the promise of opportunity, innovation and growth.

However, in 2020 and for many more years to come, the pharmaceutical industry will continue to face the challenges of the past decade, particularly the globalisation of drug supply, delivering new product types, meeting demand from emerging countries, the rise of chronic lifestyle conditions such as obesity and diabetes, and the growing threat of counterfeit and falsified medicine.

Many of these forces are also impacting how pharmaceuticals are packaged and delivered to patients. So, in the face of such disruption, what does the pharma packaging and supply chain management sector have in store for 2020?

“In 2020 and for many more years to come, the pharmaceutical industry will continue to face the challenges of the past decade”

Smarter supply chains

As the pharma industry becomes increasingly globalised and demand grows for new product types with shorter life cycles such as biological and genomic medicine, supply chains need to become smarter.

For too long the supply chain has been overlooked, despite linking the laboratory to the marketplace, with investment instead being prioritised for the discovery, development and marketing of products.

In 2020 and beyond, a greater focus will be placed on evolving manufacturing and distribution systems in line with the new frontier of drug innovation and a growing patient base from emerging markets like Brazil, India, Russia and China.

Data-driven emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things will hold the key to creating compliant and demand-driven pharma supply chains, increasing profitability across the sector and improving health outcomes.

We expect many more pharma companies to shift their operations from enterprise resource planning to the cloud, creating a virtual supply chain. This will facilitate end-to-end visibility, allow for real-time analytics and predictive forecasting to reduce drug shortages, and aid the identification of falsified medicines much more quickly than is possible today.

Advanced tracking systems, built into packaging, is also an exciting innovation. By managing and recording activity in the supply chain, tracking chips can log events or raise queries that occur across a product’s lifespan remotely. Smart packaging technologies such as this will soon become the new industry standard.

Wearable tech

In everyday life, wearable technology has become a lifestyle staple, helping people monitor their activity levels, sleep patterns and general health. In fact, today, more than 80% of people are willing to wear wearable tech.

However, there are tremendous and largely untapped opportunities to use these devices in a healthcare setting.

In the coming year, as efforts increase to move treatment out of the hospital and into the home to reduce the pressure on over-burdened healthcare systems, on-body delivery devices, or ‘wearable injectors’, will become more popular and widely available.

In 2020, more patients will take an active role in their healthcare and the administration of injectable medicines. The next generation of pre-filled syringes will offer patients stress-free and safe subcutaneous drug delivery without the need for clinical monitoring.

The benefits of large-volume wearable injectors also include reducing the number of expensive intravenous infusions, increasing adherence, facilitating larger dose delivery and lessening the risk of degradation.

Wearable devices are also disrupting the way that clinical trials are managed. Worn on the wrist of the user during a trial, the device acts as a personal assistant to the user, monitoring their health status and alerting them about abnormal conditions, medication reminders and medication tracking. It also feeds back this data to trial managers.

Child-resistant packaging

Every year, child-resistant primary (CRP) and secondary pharmaceutical packaging is becoming smarter and more commercially viable.

The CRP market will continue to evolve in 2020 as competing brands look to provide the safest and most efficient solution. One major driver of recent growth is the expanding market of cannabis-based medicinal products.

As a sector, the global cannabis extract market is expected to be worth USD 23.7 billion by 2025, helping to spur a new round of development efforts.

Ziplock bags and pouches are becoming an increasing popular way to ensure safe and compliant secondary packaging, and the focus is also now heavily on providing that first barrier of defence. Child-resistant vials pose fewer challenges to manufacturers and the market is moving towards opaque, plastic designs with standard pinch-and-twist caps to provide a child-resistant barrier.

The focus is shifting towards non-re-closable designs. Non-re-closable products provide the peace of mind of offering a higher level of protection to the medicine, plus providing a longer shelf-life.

Expectations are also increasing when it comes to child protection; acceptable extraction levels for solid dose medication are being challenged and rightly so.

Sustainable but safe

Packaging is a key area where pharmaceutical waste can be reduced, however going green doesn’t come without its challenges.

When it comes to pharmaceuticals, the safety of patients has – and will always be – top priority. However, the industry is experiencing rising pressure to cut its carbon footprint.

In a bid to eliminate non-biodegradable and single-use plastics from the supply chain, more research is taking place around bio-based PET. It’s made from ethylene derived from sugarcane which, when cultivated, utilises carbon dioxide and releases oxygen meaning it has a negative carbon footprint.

Based on successful pilots, researchers are now testing pioneering new technology on an industrial scale which converts PET waste back into virgin grade material to be used again.

We’re also seeing cutting edge manufacturing methods become commonplace, particularly in the research and development stages of pharma packaging design.

In 2020, more manufacturing facilities will utilise 3D visualisation and printing techniques, which eliminate the need for multiple prototype designs and reduce wastage.

According to the UN, the release of antibiotics into the environment is accelerating the emergence of more resistant strains. The environmental impact of antibiotic pollution will continue to dominate global discussions in 2020.

As pharmaceutical waste includes degraded and contaminated products, pharma packaging can play an important role. In response to this growing problem, we’re likely to see the mass adoption of Quality by Design (QbD) to help ensure antibiotics are delivered and administered to patients as intended.

The underlying principle of QbD is that quality is built into a product from the outset. Knowledge-based design has a key role to play in establishing ‘the rulebook’ about how a multitude of factors impact safety, efficacy and patient experience.

Top 5 Takeaways

  1. More emphasis on evolving manufacturing and distribution systems in line with a growing patient base from emerging markets.
  2. Virtual supply chains will shift operations from enterprise resource planning to the cloud.
  3. Smart packaging technologies will become industry standard.
  4. ‘Wearable injectors’ will become more popular and widely available.
  5. 3D visualisation & printing techniques will be used more to reduce waste.

Rich Quelch is Global Head of Marketing at Origin. Go to