The pharmaceutical industry is governed by regulations, increasing complexity for both the packaging manufacturers as well as the consumers. Labeling requirements governing drugs mostly involve specifying the product details, important dates, any guidance or side effects on the products packaged. Maintaining product integrity and avoiding contamination during the filling and packaging processes are other challenges that govern the industry. Unit dose packaging is an answer to all the challenges and is thus rising in popularity among consumers and major pharmaceutical companies alike.

Pharmaceutical pouches like strip and stick packs, and blisters have been the most widely used flexible packaging formats for packaging drugs. Contributing to around 18-20 percent of the overall pharmaceutical packaging market, both the categories are currently witnessing a growth of around 4-6 percent due to the effect they have had on patient compliance and medication adherence. Driven by the demand from the unit dose packaging, blister packs are expected to emerge as the second fastest growing category in the pharmaceutical packaging industry by 2017.

Complexity Reduction through Unit Dose Packaging

The challenge today is to view the contribution of compliance packaging as a value addition to the consumer and not as an added cost. Unit dose flexible packaging offers a complete solution to the challenges faced during packaging drugs. The following aspects addressed through unit dose packaging reduces complexity during the packaging of drugs:

  1. Patient Compliance and Adherence to Medication: Rigid packaging like bottles and vials show no indication of whether the medication has been consumed or not. Unit dose feature of blisters, strip and stick packs allows consumers to easily monitor their dosages. Newly available calendar packs in blister packaging formats also help to administer accurate dosage.
  2. Convenience: The portable feature of unit packs like strip packs allow them to be carried in a purse or pocket. Stick packs eliminate the need of utensils, like spoons. The convenience factor also applies to the retailers as it is easy for them to display these packs.
  3. Maintaining Product Integrity: The process and filling is also done in one single step, which reduces the exposure of the drug to external influences that might alter the properties.
  4. Labeling Requirements: Some rigid packaging formats like amber vials have labels that are difficult to read and do not accommodate all details that are specified by regulations. This requires the addition of pharmaceutical printed components as an additional feature to the medication. Unit dose packs can accommodate key printed details such as lot numbers, date’s, etc., thus eliminating the need of secondary packaging.

Acceptance: Growth across Different Geographies

Considering the advantages, the use of blister packaging is on a rise in countries like the US, which was at one time dominated by pharmaceutical bottles as packaging means for tablets and capsules. The growth in North America is dominated by the US, which accounts for almost 90 percent of the demand for blister packaging.

Asia Pacific accounted for around 20 percent of the demand for pharmaceutical blister packaging in 2012, which is expected to increase to around 22 percent by 2015. Japan is likely to contribute to around 35 percent of the demand for blister packaging, closely followed by China.  

Application: Adopting the Right Unit Dose Packaging

Prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are two basic categories of classifying drugs. Factors like cost, regulation, innovation and supplier flexibility are the key governing areas in the pharmaceutical sector, also determining the choice of packaging these drugs. Different forms of unit dose packaging could be used to suit the needs of flexible packaging suppliers and pharmaceutical companies for different drug categories.

Prescription Drugs – Regulation is the most important factor driving the prescription drug market. Child resistant packaging (CRP) regulations are currently becoming popular and important across regions like the US and Europe. Cost plays a secondary role in this market as pharmaceutical companies are more focused towards complying with the regulations and maintain product integrity/security.

Preferred Flexible Unit Dose Packaging – Blister packaging formats are widely preferred for this drug category as they are versatile, easily adaptable to CRP formats and maintain patient compliance. Blockbuster drugs could also use blister packaging formats as regulations would be the major determining factor for packaging of these drugs as well.

Sourcing and Supplier Engagement Perspective: Prescription Drugs – For the prescription drug market, it is important to engage with limited number of global suppliers with the required capabilities. The reason is to ensure standardization and maintain quality, globally, to avoid the risk of contamination, counterfeiting among others. This method also enables effective management of suppliers.

Over-the-Counter Drugs – Cost is the major driver for the OTC market, while regulations become secondary. The OTC drug market is governed by higher volumes and pharmaceutical companies focus more towards reducing their cost.

Preferred Flexible Unit Dose Packaging – Strip packs and stick packs would be the cost effective choice for OTC drugs. The use of stick packs reduces packaging by almost 30-40 percent, thus leading to cost savings. Generic drug manufacturers could use similar formats as they focus towards reducing their costs.

Sourcing and Supplier Engagement Perspective for OTC Drugs

For the OTC drug market, multiple suppliers can be engaged locally across regions, though limiting the number will help in supplier management to leverage volumes and gain significant cost savings. This also helps pharmaceutical companies gain access to a variety of innovations as switching cost is not very high, when compared to prescription drugs.

To reduce complexity and improve patient compliance, pharmaceutical companies could focus their attention towards flexible unit dose packaging such as blisters, strip and stick packs. Thus, adopting the right form of unit dose packaging can reduce a range of complexities that arise both for pharmaceutical companies and consumers alike.

Furthermore, categorizing drugs as prescription and OTC could help pharmaceutical companies in selecting the right unit dose packaging required and also support sourcing strategies for each category of packaging, to save costs and reduce supply chain complexity. 


Beroe Consulting, Inc.