12/14/2021 | Pharma Innovation

Supply strains

The latest technology is helping the pharmaceutical supply chain cope with unprecedented pressures. But changing consumer behaviour is already beginning to present new challenges.

Given the sheer number and complexity of steps involved in bringing a drug to market, it’s almost ironic that the final one – the mere act of packaging it for use – can post such taxing issues. After all, it’s not as if there are any surprises. Much of what is produced are known quantities – it comes as either tablets or liquid – and the steps are well-trodden in that they involve filling, capping, sealing and labelling. But given the need for high-levels of precision and, ever-more importantly, hygiene, it’s no surprise that production lines are now beginning to favour only the most sophisticated and highly functional of technology.

The best machines are those that combine that precision with speed and the ability to accommodate the most extensive range of pharmaceutical materials. The most ergonomically designed tend to be the easiest to maintain and clean and the latest generation of compact designs and easy change-over facilities ensure accurate dosage when filling.

That’s particularly important in terms of a potentially costly hazard, given the value of pharmaceutical products, so shortcuts are not advisable when seeking machines with optimum filling accuracy. Unlike traditional lab environments, filling tends to take place in those more likely to be susceptible to contamination, so sterility is always an issue to be aware of. There are also dangers in reverse.

The sheer act of inhaling potent medicines can have noxious effects, even in the tiniest quantities, which is why it’s vital to remove any possible area of contamination form the exterior of vials after dosing or freeze-drying. Lest it is overlooked, an effective exterior cleaning machine – one that can adjust to manage a range of container sizes and cleaning needs involving high and low-pressure requirements – is obviously a worthwhile investment.

And while it is easy to dismiss this process as one needed to merely protect the health and safety of operators, it also ensures the reliability of downstream equipment, all of which, since the events which began in 2020 brought the pharma supply chain into the public domain, have been increasingly recognised as vital. The pandemic also increased awareness of another aspect of the supply chain process: the technology involved in anti-counterfeiting. There’s nothing new in that itself, but it’s something for which demand has increased exponentially.

Anti-counterfeit packaging – the process of assigning secure packaging to a product to confirm the safety of the goods and precent imitation – has continued to grow, with predictions that the market is estimated to develop rapidly until 2027. Modern technologies are able to automatically authenticate a product’s heritage and offer the sort of brand security needed to eliminate, for example, the potential fraudulent use of a manufacturer’s brand image.

Anti-counterfeit packaging can also prevent potential health risks for consumers, something growing in importance in line with the growth of e-commerce pharmaceuticals. Since the start of the pandemic, many millions of consumers have ordered medication online for the first time. Like everything from groceries to clothing, they were attracted by the ease and convenience and the need to avoid needless and risky trips to the pharmacy.

In particular, more consumers are also now buying over-the-counter products that are non-controlled online as they embrace the convenience of e-commerce. All this is adding pressure on distributors to meet demand and experts are watching and waiting to see what effect this shift in consumer behaviour will have on pharmaceutical packaging designs.

Moving pharmaceutical products from factories to patients safely and efficiently is intricate and multi-faceted, thanks to the various restrictions and performance requirements behind the need to ensure they are protected and arrive untampered. The need for multi-layered protection technologies that can be easily and effectively integrated into packaging will become increasingly important as a means of securing both pharmaceutical brands and the consumer.  

Counterfeiting continues to be one of the most serious threats faced by the pharmaceutical industry, resulting in threats to both consumer and economic health, and potentially eroding trust in healthcare systems.

Both European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently estimated the total value of counterfeit pharmaceuticals traded worldwide to be up to €4.03 billion. The impact on the healthcare industry is a significant one. One survey carried out by Sapio Research, concluded that almost one-third of those who bought one or more counterfeit medicines have suffered a health issue as a result.


ACHEMA Inspire staff

World Show Media


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