Packaging Is Playing a New Role

Enlist your package in the war on counterfeiting and noncompliance.



Nina Goodrich

Charged with fighting counterfeiting, medical errors, and patient noncompliance, pharmaceutical firms face some real challenges. Thankfully, packaging technologies are becoming more sophisticated, and they may help firms tackle these issues.

Nina Goodrich, director of innovation for Alcan Packaging’s global pharmaceutical sector, believes that such packaging sophistication may play an increasingly strategic role for pharmaceutical companies. Packaging may even help firms differentiate their products in a competitive market.

In an interview with PMP News editor Daphne Allen, Goodrich shares her perspective as lead innovator for a global packaging company with 38 facilities in 12 countries.

Today’s patients are well informed about health issues and available therapies. What role should pharmaceutical packaging play in this market?

One way that pharmaceutical packaging can help patients manage their health is by facilitating access to more-specialized product information. This information could be accessed by scanners at pharmacies or through home computers, using a reference number printed on the package that would link to an interactive database.

Unique identifiers on the package could also reference the patient’s record, enabling patients to benefit from personalized information about drug interactivity, dosages, and side effects based on their profile. In this way, the package becomes key to providing both product and client information.

Despite an interest in managing health, patients still struggle with regimen compliance. What can drug companies do to improve it?

Drug companies can offer both passive and active methods to support patient compliance. A passive approach could be as straightforward as a patient compliance card that helps guide the patient through a regimen according to the day of the week or the time of day.

An active approach to regimen compliance involves the use of an individual identification number that the patient would scan as he or she took the drug, which could be registered through a special reader on a laptop or a cell phone. The scan would link to a database that would keep track of which medications have been taken and when.

Active compliance could also involve RFID technology that confirms by direct radio signal when medication has been taken. Once a seal is broken, the signal would register the time of the use.

What steps can pharmaceutical companies take to implement bar coding and RFID tagging in an efficient, cost-effective manner?

Most pharmaceutical companies have created one or more multifunctional teams to address the issues of authentication and/or item-level serialization in response to both FDA recommendations and prominent market initiatives, such as Wal-Mart’s RFID program. The teams are actively reviewing both the impact of counterfeit drugs on their brand and the breadth of available technology. They are trying to match desired brand, security, and/or supply-chain benefits with cost-effective solutions.

Whether striving to achieve authentication or mass serialization, clearly defining the “job to be done” is critical. The drivers for identification and authentication can be quite different. Identification could be considered part of inventory control. RFID is evolving as a good solution for inventory management. It does not require line of sight, so it can be used very efficiently to track items entering and leaving warehouses.

The security of RFID is not as evolved. By definition, an open system for inventory control has risks. Data can be altered. Encryption technology is expensive and goes against the desire to reduce RFID tag costs.

Mass serialization, the ability to identify every package with a unique number, is the best defense against counterfeit products. The numbers can be applied overtly using a numeric or two-dimensional bar code, embedded in an RFID chip, or linked to a special fingerprint on the package.

What can pharmaceutical companies do to combat emerging threats of counterfeiting?

The key to staying ahead of resourceful counterfeiters is to layer solutions by creating more than one roadblock. These should also be changed or enhanced over time.

Alcan Packaging focuses on four categories of solutions. The first targets overt printing technologies, which are designed to be seen by the consumer and the counterfeiter. These technologies raise the level of difficulty for the counterfeiter. They can include fine-line printing such as microtext and micropatterns, color-shifting inks and holograms, and others. These factors serve to instill a level of consumer confidence in the product and to demonstrate that the company is concerned about consumer safety.

The second category targets covert solutions. This is a family of secret or hidden features on or in the package that are difficult to detect if their presence is unknown. These features include special invisible inks, taggants, and hidden designs. The authentication of such features requires either a tool or hand-held device.

The third category deals with forensic solutions. This refers to markers in the package that can be detected only by heightened analysis of the product or package in order to decipher the special codes.

The fourth category involves associating unique indentification numbers with each package. In addition to serving as a means of authentication, the use of these numbers/patterns can also be used to track and trace products through the supply chain.

How has the job of today’s packaging professional changed in the last 10 years? What will it be like in the next 10 years?

The biggest change that has occurred over the last 10 years is that technology has become increasingly sophisticated, increasing the range of possibilities within packaging. This enables packagers to precisely tailor a package to the unique requirements of each product to ensure maximum product integrity.

Packaging professionals now play a key strategic role in helping their companies deal with the challenges of the unique requirements of a given product or market. Packaging can be an active part of the product solution, not just a passive carrier.

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