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How are 2024's packaging trends addressing common patient problems?

This year's packaging trends are helping to promote pharmacogenomics, sustainability and patient health. Steve Brownett-Gale explains how.

We all know that the pharmaceutical industry is ever-changing, and in 2024 it seems that stakeholders can expect to see technological advancements, shifting consumer demands and evolving supply chains.


Since Brexit, the UK government has sought to change the rules for pharmaceutical packaging and labelling by fine-tuning the industry to UK-specific rules and regulations in the Windsor Framework and mandating the inclusion of ’UK Only’ on all packaging by January 1 2025.


Read more: The ‘front door’ to health: The widening role of community pharmacy


According to the Windsor Framework, a phased transition is in place until June 30 2025, allowing sticker alternatives before printing is required until January 1 2025.


The rules set out require the label to be clear, easy to read and not printed in intricate fonts or styles. Labelling can be placed anywhere on the packaging but must be on the outer primary packaging and not hidden from plain view.


Further to these changes, any medicines in packaging containing both EU and UK information will no longer be permitted, but any medication still within expiry dates may be used until they are finished.


Read more: The opportunities of the Pharmacy First model



 Pharmacogenomics and personalised prescribing


Hospitalisations and deaths due to adverse drug reactions (ADRs) have given rise to growing research in personalised medicine, known as pharmacogenomics. This new era of healthcare improves individual treatment by delivering genetically tailored medicines and dosages, genetic testing before the administering of human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) medicine, for example.


With the increasing availability of UK and global pharmacogenomics, there is a heavier reliance on contract packaging firms to help manufacturers meet more tailored pharmaceutical packaging needs, like personalised parenteral products and patient information leaflets (PILs).


Read more: Pharmacogenomics: ‘Precision prescribing could save millions’


Personalised medicine packaging will hold potentially sensitive and private medical information about a person. But with the intelligent pharmaceutical packaging industry growing rapidly, innovation and technological advancements in packaging could be the answer to safeguarding personal data.


Examples include scannable QR codes and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, which enable smartphone users to scan product packaging and be served the relevant medicinal information.



More sustainable packaging


Sustainability in pharmaceutical packaging is impossible to ignore as more people align their lifestyle choices with sustainable metrics. The industry is rising to the challenge and the market for sustainable pharma packaging is expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.4 percent by 2027.


Compostable packaging, for example, has been gaining traction. Studies have shown an overwhelming 89% of UK adults support compostable packaging, with new products increasingly becoming available on the market.


Read more: Communication fundamental to avoid medicines shortages


However, it is important to view any innovation through a holistic lens. This starts with materials being selected based on how easily they are reused or recycled, as well as how resource-intensive or carbon-heavy production is. Packaging manufacturers will need to question whether sustainable packaging alternatives can fulfil all the criteria.


For example, paper-based packaging ranks favourably among consumers for sustainable promises, but it’s accused of exacerbating water loss and climate change. 


Post-consumer regrind (PCR) is increasingly used in packaging as a sustainable alternative. Benefits of PCR include reducing waste, lowering carbon footprints, and promoting a circular economy in the industry. In 2024, we can expect to see continued growth in this area, with the PCR market forecast to have a CAGR of 8.3% by 2028.


There is no doubt that sustainability in packaging will be a continued focus for the industry in 2024 and beyond.




Continued investment in blockchain


Blockchain’s contribution towards the fight against the counterfeit pharmaceutical industry by provides a tamper-proof and distributable database that scrupulously denotes all transactions and movements of pharmaceutical products throughout the global supply chain. This gives visibility into every stage and next year there will be continued investment in this field.


Read more: Overcoming challenges to achieve the Pharmacy First vision



Blockchain benefits include eliminating inefficiencies, pre-empting and rectifying drug shortages, ensuring product quality and defending against the counterfeit pharmaceutical market.


With the growing prevalence and enhanced capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, its use in conjunction with blockchain technology will further facilitate real-time monitoring and securing of supply chains by spotting irregularities and potential risks as and when they happen.


Blockchain can also serialise each drug with an unchangeable and unique identifier tag. This allows stakeholders to verify a drug’s authenticity and track its origin, preventing the distribution of counterfeit drugs into the market.




New and improved drug delivery systems


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a universal threat to global public health having directly caused an estimated 1.27 million deaths and nearly five million indirectly. This issue is of paramount importance and will continue to be in 2024 and beyond.


One of the main drivers of AMR is patient drug misuse; including forgetfulness, avoiding unpleasant side effects, cost and a false sense of security when symptoms ease.


Read more: Is our medicines supply chain fit for purpose?


Packaging design is evolving to address these issues with inventions such as pre-filled syringes, auto-injectors and inhalers, making it easier for patients to take prescribed medicines.


Other innovations in smart packaging solutions deliver patients with trackers and reminders to take medications on time and to completion. Smart blister packs are one example of this, with an inbuilt ability to capture use-related data and send reminders of when the next dosages are due.


The required commitment to child-resistant packaging (CRP) creates another barrier to patient adherence for those with disabilities such as blindness or reduced dexterity.


But innovations in CRP are attempting to remedy this, with bottle lids that need moistening to be opened, laser perforation in packaging requiring two-way tearing motions, zip lock and flap designs and technology designed to distort depth perception which confuses children.


In 2024, we will see the rise of biologics - diverse medical products derived from living organisms which are used to treat medical conditions for which there are no other treatment options available.


The biologics market is forecast to make $120 billion in sales by 2027, and ongoing development into new drug delivery systems and their packaging will be necessary to accommodate its growth.



Steve Brownett-Gale is the marketing lead at Origin – a company specialising in pharmaceutical packaging solutions

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