How to tackle innovation in pharma head on – EPM Magazine

Federico Piutti, innovation manager at Bormioli Pharma details how prototyping can help the pharma industry push forward with new innovation models.

The pharma industry is pushing forward on product innovation faster than ever before. The development of new, innovative drug formulations implies a new challenge for the supply chain, in particular pharma packaging manufacturers.

To keep up the pace of innovation, packaging companies are required to accelerate their innovation processes, redesigning brand new approaches able to optimise internal and external capabilities.

Open innovation models present several advantages in this situation: they allow us to rely not only on internal R&D know-how but also to start-ups, clients, suppliers and research centres, creating a porous environment able to generate new ideas and values.

Furthermore, pharma packaging manufacturers are also called to make a leap in order to become proactive innovators, reacting not only to customers’ requests but proposing new innovations based on the emerging needs of final users and consumers, using different techniques – such as ethnographic researchers –  to find out latent opportunities.

Nevertheless, a change of approach is not enough to deliver new concepts for the pharma industry.  Indeed, prototyping and what we call “fast factory” are keys for success. The contribution of these new processes also applies to the industrial side, that means the massive production of new packages, with a consistent acceleration of go-to-market timings.

As a company, we are applying our innovation efforts to four key topics of the pharma packaging industry: usability, traceability, connectivity and sustainability. In all of them, prototyping represents a drive in innovation and product development acceleration.

Studies state that easy-to-use pharma packaging has a very positive impact on patient adherence, increasing the efficacy of the therapies. Moreover, other macrotrends – such as an ageing population and the rise of chronic diseases – together with new lifestyles characterised by ever faster pace, push the R&D departments to work on such solutions. These may consist both in add-ons or combined solutions allowing a more immediate or on the go drug consumption for different targets, like general consumers or professional operators such as nurses. Fast factory tools have accelerated the development of new, more usable concepts, through the massive use of additive manufacturing techniques, allowing quicker development of mock-ups, validation with clients and definition of the final product.

Another point is that the increasing complexity of the pharma supply chain and upcoming serialisation regulations push product traceability to the next level. This is why the pharma supply chain is developing tracking systems able to provide complex information all throughout the drug’s journey, anytime and anywhere in the world. 

A key factor for the success of traceability solutions will be the implementation of a non-editable, technologically advanced tracking solution that can’t be counterfeited and can be recognised both by industrial systems and consumer appliances and devices, offering different layers of information to specific target groups and ensuring consistency throughout the value chain. In this case, prototyping lets us evaluate – quickly and effectively – new concept features and assess potential manufacturing constraints.

Technology and digitalisation also apply to packaging features. For example, the development of solutions able to connect to devices through the internet of things (IoT) network can enable people to effectively take control of their health, by tracking the process for drug administration or the optimal use of every single dose. Coming to this trend, prototyping allows us to explore the opportunities that come from connected objects – through the IoT network – related with our packaging, that could be able to provide added value to the final user.

Last but not least, the environment – and growing waves of consumers – are asking for big changes, requiring immediate action to make businesses more sustainable.

Plastic packaging is currently under international radars due to stricter regulation and strategy aiming at ensuring that more plastic is recycled, and that plastic waste is reduced. Even though pharmaceutical packaging has not yet been under attack, there is the possibility that consumers’ demand may soon press pharma companies for a wide range of more sustainable solutions. Given for granted the importance of plastic use in pharma, the most promising solutions could be seen in the first recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) compliant solutions for pharma industries, as well as the development – still underway – of bio-based or biodegradable solutions suitable for drug contact.

We are now at the beginning of a new decade, a decade that is destined to bring revolutionary changes in the pharma industry and in consumers’ lives. We strongly support the idea that old corporate models need to be reshaped, making innovation the central focus of companies’ management, governance and strategies, and promoting a company-wide, innovation-oriented culture.