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FROM MAGAZINE: The makeover of packaging industry

There has never been a greater necessity of more sophisticated and personalised temperature control solutions than today, when the complexities in the pharma environment has increased multiple times.

Steve Brabbs participated as a speaker in the Pharma Air Shippers' Forum during Air Cargo Africa, Johannesburg
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Steve Brabbs participated as a speaker in the Pharma Air Shippers' Forum during Air Cargo Africa, Johannesburg

There has never been a greater necessity of more sophisticated and personalised temperature control solutions than today, when the complexities in the pharma environment has increased multiple times. The specialty products like biologics, injectable and clinical trial drugs call for better temperature control and the right packaging techniques. In an exclusive interview to Shreya Bhattacharya, Steve Brabbs, global technology leader, DuPont Safety & Construction, gives his assessment of the packaging industry for the global pharma sector.

Can you give us your assessment of the packaging industry for the Indian/global pharma sector?
It’s an ever changing and always developing area. There are always new things coming along, although the basic physics that we are trying to deal with remains the same. So, lots of these reorganisation and recrafting of systems have been around for a long time. Because there is more competition coming in and also new sources of materials, prices and cost can become better and the systems that we used in the past if were very high end, new applications can spread out to rest of the industry as well.

Your views on the current landscape and the potential impact of global trends?
Well in the pharmaceutical industry, there are a couple of major trends that everybody is aware of, for example aging populations needing more medications so, it is great time to be in the pharmaceutical industry in general terms, competition is increasing, the pharma companies are always trying to find out the way to outcompete their competitors, but in general, the demand is always going to grow. The other big trend is towards more sophisticated medicines, which are going to require more cold chain protection because they tend to be large molecule therapies, which are only going to be stable if they are kept and stored and transported at a controlled temperature range. So generally, there’s a lot of opportunity and it’s going to be even more opportunity in the future.

How are regulatory changes driving packaging innovation in the pharma industry?
We saw a big change, may be 5 years ago, when Europe introduced the GDP regulations, and applied it to cold chain products and also to room temperature products. That was a big opportunity and it boosted a lot of new applications, a lot of uses of the temperature controlled systems particularly the pallet blankets that we manufacture for the shipment of controlled room temperature products, whereas that hadn’t been a case in the past. We see the same trend happening in other places, the US is moving in the same direction, slightly different structure in terms of regulations but the same intent behind them, and gradually that has started to roll out elsewhere in the world. So as a new country or territory improves its regulatory framework in that direction then that opens up more opportunities in that region so it’s always the driving force in this industry and it can cause problems to readjust when new regulations come in but the innovation opportunities are there to react and provide the solutions which are necessary. At the end of the day, what is important is that the medicines that the people take are safe. That’s the intent and we have to respect and value that.

How are Phase Change Materials (PCM) impacting efficiency and productivity of thermal packaging?
The introduction of the Phase Change Materials few years ago, or the wider use of them, shall we say, that really revolutionised a lot of thermo packaging systems. In the past gel packs have been used, you had to be very careful and not to use too much of the ice because you could risk freezing the product, and the placement of the gel packs of the product within the packaging system had to be done just right again to avoid the risk of freezing the product. Now with Phase Change Materials that risk has been taken away so it brings a lot of simplification and a lot of opportunities in doing thing in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. Particularly for room temperature systems, gel packs were no good to control the temperature.

One area that had really developed in the last few years (3-4 years) is the use of phase change materials in large scale shipping containers that can take entire pallets and some of them now have the kind of performance that you would expect from an active system, because they can’t run indefinitely, they don’t have a power source but in some sense there is nothing really to go wrong with them ones they have been prepared correctly. You put the cargo in there and close the door and ship it. You can actually forget about it. So companies like Skycell who have introduced that have revolutionsed the pallet shipment in that part of the market and the trend is going to continue for sure.

Can you elaborate on what other products you have in store for the pharma sector? And who are the key clients that you are currently servicing?
I can’t make any announceMENT about new products or things like that but the approach that we are taking is we have the resources to bring different materials into the market. We sell Tyvek pallet blankets but there are many other materialS within the broader DuPont that can be used in this kind of applications in different ways and we want to move quickly. So it’s about partnering with people who already have a part of a solution and we can put the pieces together into another way to solve the problem. But to always do that, talking to the pharmaceutical company is important because it has to work technically and be acceptable for them and also to everyone else, who has to touch the product during its transport i.e. the logistics companies, airlines, trucking companies and everyone so that it’s easy to use. Because it’s no good having the best technical solution if it’s too complicated, takes too much time, requires too much space. There are many things that can go wrong to make a good technical solution practically not work. So that is the kind of approach we would like to take to make sure that everybody’s interests are met and everybody’s needs are met and the solution works for everybody. It also gives you the lowest cost at the end of the day because you are not saving cost here but adding cost there and ending up with a no net benefit.

Are your clients demanding further innovations?
Part of our business, we work through airlines, who use our pallet blankets as part of their pharma offering. Emirates would be a good example and we just celebrated 10 years of collaborations with pharma shipping company. But we also talk directly to the pharmaceutical company of course, because they are a key decision makers in all of this, so out of top 10 we work with 6 or 7 of major pharma companies, names that everybody would recognise, such as Roche, Bayer, Novartis etc.

Do you take feedback from your customers and then accordingly bring innovations into your products?
Its more than just a feedback, it’s about sitting down with them discuss their need, discuss different concepts, ways of solving a problem so that we can begin on a path which has a high chance of success. Rather than trying things, what do you think of this, that’s not quite right, go back and think again, that’s too slow for the industry.

New Product innovation in the offing from your end.
There are! and the way we are trying to apply that is generally around the concept of having effortless compliance to make it easy to do that job right. When we talk to the pharmaceutical companies particularly, and find out that when can the things go wrong, when can the excursions happen, what can happen and what is the root cause, most of the time they say its human error. It’s not that the technical systems or the packaging materials or the data logging systems failed technically, it‘s just that someone either didn’t do what they were supposed to do, or they didn’t know what they were supposed to do. So developing systems which require as little human intervention as possible or as little training as possible to make it work properly, that’s the key to success. That is kind of the philosophy behind the way we are approaching, product development in this area.

The technology works but it works with a lot of efforts, lot of complexities and a lot of systems which have to integrate together. It’s that simplification and that is going to require sometimes completely a new way of looking at how to achieve that job.

Potential in India’s pharmaceutical market
India has been a great growth generator for us too because the generics manufacturers who began 10 years ago exploded there and it’s a great opportunity when a new product goes on to the global market. There is always temperature protection needed initially for the first shipments and then continuously afterwards. So all the big generic manufacturers have been working with us and in the future the trend is going to continue into the biopharma areas well with biosimilar, so even more is needed for good temperature protection in that area. There are local producers of packaging systems there. I have to say they are working well in some cases but it’s very sporadic and there you need to have a recognition by the international pharma companies in order to have acceptance of those systems to be used in a global trade. People want to buy the same thing anywhere in the world and know that it is going to work the same way. So, there is a question of global scope that needs to improve for the packaging materials industry in India, but it will happen, I am sure!

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