HCPC Europe on whether Smart Packaging will revolutionize therapy adherence?

Ger Standhardt, Executive Director of HCPC Europe, discusses the future direction and development of the smart packaging industry

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Pharma IQ

By 2021, the pharmaceutical packaging industry will be worth $95bn with pharmaceuticals predicted to experience the biggest growth in smart packaging globally. Many are touting the benefits of smart packaging, including; organized and efficient data collection, innovation packaging solutions for personalized medicines and the promotion of therapy adherence. However, there are a number of obstacles to the full adoption of smart tech, the most pressing being the current difficulty to implement smart packaging in an affordable way. 

In conversation with Pharma IQ, Ger Standhardt, Executive Director of HCPC Europe, offers insight on the realities of smart packaging, how this innovation could benefit both pharma and patients and the future direction and development of the industry in coming years.


Moving from concept to reality

Although there is growing end-user demand for intelligent packaging, the process of moving from concept to market implementation has been difficult for many of these technologies. Standhardt explained that "many smart packaging concepts were brilliant ideas with good technology, but they simply didn't catch on". 

In some cases, innovative technology was incompatible with the product designer’s process. However, we are seeing movement with different forms of technology, with packs that can now monitor patient adherence and connect with smart devices.


What will be the key changes if smart packaging becomes commonplace?

“The main change is that smart packaging will bring pharma companies closer to their patients” says Standhardt. Currently, there is a distinct separation between the patient and producer of the medicine, primarily for legal reasons, but with a wider implementation of smart packaging, “the pharmaceutical sector will follow other industries in moving towards a service model more than just a product mode” explains Standhardt. Moving the industry closer to their end-users will undoubtedly be a positive step in building a greater understanding of patients and providing an improved service to suit their needs.

How will smart packaging improve therapy adherence? The vast majority of patients want to take their medication as prescribed and smart packaging is undoubtedly a useful tool to improve therapy adherence; assisting individuals in remembering when to take their medication and setting out a clear habit for the long term. Adherence can be promoted in several ways, including smart primary packs with visual or audio reminders, RFID systems (the process by which items are uniquely identified using radio waves) with links to smartphones, and the direct use of smartphones for reminders.

“The packaging needs to trigger the habit of taking the medicine at the same time every day” says Standhardt, he went on to explain that once a habit is formed, issues can arise when people actually forget they’ve taken the medication because it is a now habitual. In this sense, the reminder aspect of the smart packaging is just as critical as the habit-forming element and in this scenario smart packaging gives a far greater scope for reminders than normal packaging.


Scaling up

There are a number of prevalent challenges related to incorporating smart packaging technologies into pharma packaging high-speed production lines. From an operational perspective, many of these challenges are associated with applying the tags to the packaging, making sure the tags are functional post-application, and reading each tag as the packages run through the production line when they are being prepared for distribution. Ensuring that this production process takes place at a high speed and scale will be critical in making smart packaging commonplace in pharmacies.

“A major hurdle that is commonly mentioned is the cost of the tag” explains Standhardt, “and a hurdle that is usually overlooked is the back end systems and software systems”. Aside from the operational issues, there are a number of developmental challenges related to smart packaging, including mobile readiness, data integration and software infrastructure in order to make the end-to-end process work.


Will the cost of implementation be prohibitive?

“Smart packaging will start in the more mature markets” says Standhardt, “but it is certainly not the only way to help patients to adhere to their therapy”. In some cases low tech, low cost smart packs are actually better than the traditional low tech packs, and still don’t cost more, but do a better job. Companies should never lose sight of simplicity when considering packaging, smart or otherwise. As with many products, success in packaging is driven through high volume and low margins; smart packaging is not yet in that position and this does limit its implementation in some areas at the moment.


What different types of smart packaging are there?

There are numerous examples of smart packaging with printed electronics on the blister, these generate a signal when a pill is taken out of the blister, and they then make a choice about how to react to that signal. There are also systems that communicate information directly to a mobile phone or another device. Another method of smart packaging is with scheduling reminders; this can be done with an on pack display or with communication from the pack to a smart device.

One of last years winners at the HCPC Europe Columbus Award for Patient-friendly Packaging Design was a system that calculates via an algorithm in the pack and generates a number, from this, the healthcare provider can contact that person when needed to check which number it shows in the display. “Systems such as this have a more direct interaction between healthcare provider and patient” explains Standhardt.


Where will smart packaging be in five years time?

“It is unlikely that all packaging will become smart in the electronic sense” says Standhardt, this is because some pharmaceuticals can be produced so cheaply. Aspirin, for example, is considerably less expensive than cancer drug to produce, and the need for therapy adherence is much lower. “There are pills that people take daily and they're used to this routine, but that isn’t an example of smart packaging and there's no need to make that any smarter” explains Standhardt. It is likely that moving forwards, smart packaging will be used in certain markets where there is high risk to patients if they don’t take their medicine at the right time and in the right way.

Moving forwards, another concern with smart packaging is patient privacy, “with the new privacy law coming up in May, it will be interesting to see how that will influence the development of these technologies” comments Standhardt. When working with medicines and therapies, the information gathered is particularly sensitive and this is definitively something that the smart packaging industry will have to take into consideration.



Smart packaging will undoubtedly have an influence on the promotion of therapy adherence, consumer education, counterfeiting, and track and trace systems. Pharma companies globally are exploring smart packaging technologies and attempting to bring these concepts to market. However, the industry will need to develop the supply chain further in order to produce smart packaging on a greater scale so it can be made more commercially viable.

The Pharmaceutical Packaging and Labelling Summit will include a discussion of the advantages of smart packaging and how these technologies can be incorporated in order to create new opportunities for better communication with patients.