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All wrapped up - pharma packaging developments

New packaging developments that help foster engagement and ease of use for patients can result in greater returns for pharma companies through increased compliance 

All wrapped up - pharma packaging developments Pharma is experiencing a major repositioning, putting the patient at the centre of the healthcare model and companies recognise that their future success will be measured in terms of the healthy outcomes they deliver for patients, rather than simply sales and profits. 

This new modus operandi is much more complex than the one-way, linear 'push model' of the past where they made medicines that healthcare professionals prescribed to patients and little or, indeed, nothing, happened in the way of dynamic dialogue. Now we have a complex matrix in which these groups, along with other new entrants (including mobile health firms, large retailers, IT companies and others – all attracted by the changing marketplace), are constantly involved in multiple conversations. Today's patients are actively engaged in managing their health and have more information at their disposal than previous generations could have imagined.

Growth opportunities
What is interesting, though, is that the chance to engage more deeply and directly with consumers offers pharma companies opportunities for growth as they face the patent cliff and fewer new products in the pipeline.

At the centre of this shift is an increasing need to create branding that will resonate with the new empowered patient. Pharmaceutical companies need to know and understand their patients, not just in medical terms but also as consumers. This requires behavioural insight, very much characterised by monitoring social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and blogs, to learn about the routines and patterns of patients' daily lives.

This is leading to radical changes in the previously undifferentiated world of 'white box' packaging, as it becomes one of the most important tools in the industry's armoury.
It has moved from being a means to communicate mandatory regulatory product information to becoming part of the conversation that will help forge a deeper relationship with patients and as a means to respond both strategically and tactically to pharma industry issues. 

Similarly, with many drugs shifting into the over-the-counter (OTC) sector as they come off patent, the need to draw from fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) techniques and create packaging that has impact 'from the shelf out' is growing.

Consumers treat nine out of 10 common illnesses through self diagnosis and self medication. The function and benefits of the product therefore need to be portrayed in a clear and bold way in order to catch the eye of the consumer.

Packaging is having an increasingly significant impact on prescription-only medicines too. With barriers to entry increasing, sales achieved from existing portfolios have never been more important. However, adherence levels can be shockingly low. The value of increasing adherence for some blockbuster drugs by as little as a single percentage point has been estimated to grow revenue by as much as bringing a new drug to market.

Packaging can make a huge difference here. For instance, the relationship between the medicine and patient is sometimes characterised by associations with illness rather than wellness. So, the medication box that contains the product can become a symbol of the condition rather than something associated with recovery. Also, the challenge of having to take medicines regularly for an extensive period of time can ultimately cause patients to lapse.  Packaging can address this issue, both by redefining the emotional connection between patient and product and also by helping in more tangible ways.

Packaging innovations can include simple solutions, such as having on-pack areas for patients to record when they have taken their medicines, to more sophisticated approaches.

At the high value/severe condition end of the market, technological applications are being used, such as Wi-fi enabled packaging which triggers emails, automated phone calls or sets off flashing lights to ensure that the patient does not miss the next dose.  The data from this often provides a log that can be viewed and assessed remotely by a healthcare provider.

With counterfeiting accounting for annual losses estimated at $75bn, packaging has also been at the heart of the industry's strategy to protect itself. It has employed an array of security techniques to combat this issue, with varying success, including microtext, debossing and embossing, customised varnishes, holographic materials, tamper-evident stickers, RFID (radio frequency identification) track-and-trace tagging and customised graphics and fonts.

Recently some companies have developed uniquely coded packs with 'scratch and reveal' serial numbers that can be checked by the end user, either at the chemist or via the Internet, to help ensure the provenance and legitimacy of medicines. These are not only important for the industry, but also help boost consumers' confidence in the medicines they are taking.

The greater understanding and importance of consumer needs is likely to lead to straightforward but important changes in the structural aspects of packaging. For instance, by gaining a greater understanding of the growing (and increasingly significant) older population, there are opportunities for drug companies to innovate and differentiate by meeting their needs. According to a poll by charity Age UK, 48 per cent of over-65s struggle to take caps and lids off products, so there would be benefits to making packaging easier to open.

Similarly, patient information could be provided in more accessible formats delivered in new ways, such as via hand-held devices and tablets.

Pharmaceutical packaging is evolving rapidly. Increasingly sophisticated technologies and strategies are being employed. The competition for use of the valuable on-pack space is stronger than ever. Much of this is driven by the regulatory authorities; increased point size for text to improve readability, multi-market, centrally-registered products containing multiple languages and Braille requirements are all making it even more difficult, in terms of the on-pack space available, to be able to meet the challenges required and opportunities raised.

What helps is that packaging is no longer constrained by the box. It can also act as a launch point for digital communications, which will also play an invaluable role in helping pharma companies, healthcare professionals and patients take part in a democratic, multi-participant conversation. This flow and exchange of information is an ecosystem in which a multitude of digital communication channels play a vital role in the Pharma 3.0 objective of delivering healthy outcomes. Indeed, the best successes will come where digital media and technology integrate with packaging to help consumers gain a better brand experience and, as a result, an improved patient outcome. 

As the sector comes under greater scrutiny, and products become more dynamic (e.g. launching with 'live licences'), being able to respond quickly with accurate, on-brand and on-specification packaging is imperative.

In addition, with the growing importance of emerging countries, it is vital that packaging is compliant and on-brand across many markets. 

For example, the BRIC markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China expect to see a combined incremental market value growth of $45-55bn between 2008-2013, according to the report 'Untangling the Web' by David McDaid and A-La Park for Bupa. Pharma brands are therefore looking for packaging partners who mirror their global footprint and can help them create brand and regulatory messaging that is consistent and compelling on pack, online and at every other patient touchpoint, while also being careful to adhere to guidelines and regulations.  This is a complex area and one where partners need to have an in-depth understanding of all related issues.

For those involved in pharmaceutical packaging these are exciting times. The ever-changing pharma landscape and the range of technologies and approaches being developed to maximise the impact of packaging mean that the functional, humble standard pill box has been succeeded by a new breed of packaging components that will help define the future of the sector.

Stephen Marshman, SchawkThe Author
Stephen Marshman
is sales and business development director at Schawk. With a wealth of experience in the artwork and graphics sector spanning a 15-year career with Schawk, he has spent much of the last decade leading the development of Schawk's offering to clients in the pharmaceutical sector. He has first-hand insight into the challenges surrounding marketing of pharmaceuticals and operates at the vanguard of the technologies and approaches that are driving packaging innovations forward across the sector.

28th May 2012


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