fight against counterfeits and extend the life of medicines


Best estimates suggest that counterfeit drugs could account for up to 50% of online sales and 10% of those in circulation worldwide. While counterfeiters mainly replicate packaging to sell knock-off products, Ketaki Badhire from Future Market Insights here explores the development of smart packaging in the fight against counterfeit drugs.

What is the impact of counterfeit products on the pharmaceutical industry and its packaging?

According to the findings of the Future Market Insights (FMI) report, the global pharmaceutical packaging industry has been particularly affected by the supply of counterfeit products. The prevalence of counterfeit manufacturers has generated significant losses in terms of trademarks, packaging designs, intellectual property rights, etc.

Although the scale and impact of the problem are impossible to quantify, the International Trade Administration has estimated the size of the global market for counterfeit medicines to be between $75 billion and $200 billion, a figure like this could represent half of all drugs sold in some low-income countries.

Counterfeiters mainly imitate genuine products through similar (secondary) packaging materials and designs, including cartons, boxes and pouches.

The market for counterfeit drugs is not only thriving, but also the most lucrative of all global trades in falsified and illegally copied products, bringing in billions of dollars a year. According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 10% of medicines in circulation are counterfeit and almost 50% of medicines sold online are fake. Not only do these falsified medicines put millions of people at risk, they are also at risk of death – WHO estimates suggest that approximately one million people worldwide lose their lives to falsified medicines.

As a result, counterfeit products in the pharmaceutical market – and especially in developed regions – have a significant impact on market value. To overcome these problems, anti-counterfeiting measures have been developed and put in place, although stricter law enforcement and anti-counterfeiting measures are expected to grow in importance in the coming years.

Fight against counterfeit medicines

pharmaceutical box labeled 'FAKE DRUGS' - counterfeit pharmaceuticals idea

Undoubtedly, counterfeit drugs are one of the greatest threats to the pharmaceutical industry and, more importantly, to the lives of patients. Smart packaging helps combat this problem. A recent IMF report valued the anti-counterfeit pharmaceutical packaging market at $91.4 billion in 2021 and suggested it would grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9% through 2027.

Technology protection is key to ensuring the integrity of the supply chain, ensuring consumers have access to safe and authentic medicines and medical devices. Not only will serialization and track and trace capabilities help brands thwart counterfeiters, but they can also be used to create more value by creating new revenue generation channels.

With these approaches critical in the fight to protect patients from counterfeit medicines, the printing and packaging industries must continue to innovate to stay ahead of illegal producers and prevent unsuspecting patients from have potentially dangerous imitations.

How is smart packaging being used to fight the counterfeit market and extend the life cycle of drugs?

Saurabh Sharma, managing director of healthcare at FMI, recently told an FMI webinar that the big advantage of smart packaging is value. “Smart packaging features can bring value to different stakeholders in the packaging value chain,” he said. “For example, extending the shelf life of a product, making its use safer, more convenient or more effective.”

Typical anti-counterfeit packaging solutions that are widely adopted range from as simple as holograms, to more complex Near Field Communication (NFC) systems. Such solutions can be considered as a digital tag that carries information. They can help pharmaceutical companies, as well as their distribution partners and consumers, access information about the product and its journey, as well as verify product integrity and authenticity.

Smart solutions to thwart the counterfeit market

Artificial Intelligence (AI) embedded Quick Response (QR) Codes are secure anti-counterfeiting QR codes that enable seamless communication with consumers about product integrity and in some way make clones invalid. Additionally, these solutions help pharmaceutical companies create easy-to-use loyalty programs for their consumers.

Other popular digital tags such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and NFC can give a unique identity to the medicine, these identities contain product information, e.g. generic information or certifications, and allow tracking functionality and traceability that helps pharmaceutical companies gain product visibility. throughout the supply chain. These can also help increase health literacy levels in patients.

Smart/anti-counterfeit packaging technology idea - QR code scanner reading label on box

Thermochromic inks are another key development. These are substances that react to changes in temperature and are either reversible or permanent. Thermochromic inks can be used to print temperature indicators on packaging, helping companies understand any damage produced during transport and therefore extending the life of the product.

The use of micro text on packaging is a solution implemented in the fight against counterfeiting. It allows words to be printed below or at the size of a dot, which is almost imperceptible to the human eye without the aid of magnification.

While these technologies are certainly exciting, they must be implemented strategically to be effective.

What makes the pharmaceutical industry ready for smart packaging?

In short, patient safety. Regulations are strict and quality is extremely important in the industry. Legislation is constantly changing as breakthroughs in research are made and new technologies become available. Meanwhile, packaging must reflect, support and communicate these changes.

The growth of the smart packaging market will be driven by many factors, including the expansion of the pharmaceutical market, partly driven by the commercialization of sophisticated biotechnology-based drugs; the increased prevalence of highly moisture-sensitive drugs, driving demand for moisture-control packaging; and the need for packaging that can provide reminders as populations age and more people need medication regularly.

Costs may remain prohibitive for many healthcare providers, especially in emerging economies, but smart packaging is already playing an important role in providing patients, pharmacists and healthcare professionals with valuable information on delivery dates. expiration, composition and dosages. With future innovations likely to drive down costs in the years to come, the role of smart packaging will only grow.

Our traditional little pill box has become so much more: it ensures that our pills are stored in optimal atmospheric conditions, reminds us when to take them, while protecting us from counterfeiters.

Companies operating in the smart pharmaceutical packaging market are pushing to allow customization to end-user requirements, as different drugs or drugs have varying properties that need to be considered to preserve the product. Smart pharmaceutical packaging manufacturers are also increasingly focusing on developing sustainable packaging options to minimize environmental impact.

Pharmaceutical traceability is governed by two key regulations: the Drug Supply Chain Security Act in the United States and the European Falsified Medicines Directive, which requires that “what’s on the label is actually in the package” and that the label meets the required certifications. is also driving demand for smart packaging. The European Falsified Medicines Directive focuses primarily on the identification and serialization of individual medicine packs and the regulation, which was published in 2016, establishes mandatory unique identifiers on individual packs comprising a product code, serial number series based on a random algorithm, a reimbursement number according to the countries in which the drug is marketed, a batch number and an expiry date.

The future

The pharmaceutical packaging industry is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. This growth spurt is expected to be led by Asia-Pacific and other markets outside of Europe and North America due to increased government initiatives, emerging pharmaceutical markets, growth in contract manufacturing activities, population growth and rising healthcare costs.

As the pharmaceutical packaging market grows, smart packaging will undoubtedly start to take a bigger slice of the pie. Our traditional little pill box has become so much more: it ensures that our pills are stored in optimal atmospheric conditions, reminds us when to take them, while protecting us from counterfeiters. The smart packaging perspective illustrates the role packaging plays as an integral part of maintaining product integrity as well as the consumer experience.

About the Author

Ketaki badhire is a content writer at Future Market Insights, an ESOMAR certified market research and market research consulting firm. She has written extensively on changing trends in packaging and related industries.

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