This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Vivian Xie
1 Jun 2023

CPHI Online Webinar Series – The CPO Perspective: Driving Healthcare Sustainability

Pharmaceutical contract packaging organisations (CPOs) offer organisations broader expertise in pharma packaging, specialist skills, and flexibility with time, efficiency, and costings for pharmaceutical companies lacking in-house packaging expertise. However, packaging partners in the pharmaceutical supply chain find themselves at an interesting crossroads with service offerings. Increased growth in unique areas of healthcare and the demand for sustainability means packaging experts need to align technologies and business strategies to deliver innovative products and services to partners looking to keep pace with industry trends. 

Here, we cover key insights from the recent CPHI Online webinar ‘Contract Packaging Outlook: Growth Trends within the Commercial Packaging Sector’ on pharmaceutical packaging trends and the impact of healthcare sustainability on the packaging sector. 

Injecting your company with the right tools 

Alexander Schaefer, Business Development Manager – Europe at Sharp Services, started the webinar from the perspective of a CPO. With the market and approvals for biologics surpassing small molecule approvals for the first time, 51% of the global market is comprised of biologics. However, packaging innovation seems to be lagging behind – vials continue to be the go-to choice for pharmaceutical packaging, consisting of 60% of packaging for FDA and EMA injectable drug approvals from 2012–2021. In looking towards the future, Schaefer expected the proportion of injectable devices to grow following an estimated market to reach USD $1.7 billion by 2040, and a CAGR of almost 15% to 2027. 

For CPOs, the growth of the injectables market provides opportunities to specialise in a myriad of requirements, including but not limited to: 

  • Cold-chain operations: biologics and large molecule injectable products are typically temperature sensitive, requiring storage between a minimum of 2–8oC, and sometimes even cryogenic or frozen storage.  

  • Assembly: Unlike blister packs or bottles, injectables often require assembly, whether they are pens, autoinjectors, or PFS assembly, each with their own equipment and skillsets needed to manufacture.  

  • Sustainability: A growing trend for CPOs to focus on is the value of sustainability for companies looking to partner with a packaging specialist. Custom-designed, reusable devices have a longer lifespan and appeal to patients and users for their familiarity and ease-of-use. Companies within the pharma supply chain look for partners throughout the drug manufacturing, packaging, and transportation process to increase their sustainable footprint and satisfy all stakeholders on their end. 

Trends in pharma packaging and beyond 

Cell and gene therapies also present an opportunity for CPOs to innovate. Though growth is not necessarily comparable to injectables Schaefer commented, with just over 1% of worldwide sales being cell and gene therapies in 2022, this therapeutic modality still presents a valuable opportunity for CPOs to tap into a very different pharmaceutical infrastructure with specific process requirements and a patient-led demand model. Cell and gene therapy pipelines may not produce the volume of therapeutics demanded by other modalities like small molecules but to specialize in their packaging could be what sets a CPO apart from the others. 

Digitalisation of the packaging manufacturing process will also be demanded of not only CPOs, but also CROs and CDMOs. With serialisation requirements becoming a mainstay of pharmaceutical packaging and aggregation to create more transparency in the pharma supply chain, every player will need to adopt a digitalised mindset in order to streamline operations, reduce timelines, and improve quality outcomes. 

Sustainability demands 

Returning to the topic of sustainability, Schaefer emphasised that sustainability is not a trend. The importance for CPOs to consider the sustainability initiatives of their partners and to meet these requirements with the right ESG performances will be a lasting topic to discuss and implement into the core strategy of every company’s growth. 

Certain constraints for pharmaceutical packaging with regard to sustainability concerns can include technical issues such as paper labels over plastic, multi-component devices that may be difficult to dispose of in single-use devices, all while maintaining the product’s safety and efficacy as a therapeutic. CPOs will need to consider and expand their options when heading to market – what is materials and devices are currently available vs what is sustainable? What does waste management look like for sustainable packaging efforts? Schaefer is clear in the need for the industry in thinking in the long-term and moving from a linear ‘take, make, waste’ mindset to circular design and thinking. 

The alternative value chain? 

Nic Hunt, Global Head of Sustainability at Neli Pak, further expanded on the impact of climate change and sustainability efforts on healthcare, and the value of pharmaceutical partners in the supply and value chain in driving healthcare sustainability. Offering what he termed the ‘value circle’ Hunt emphasised cross-chain collaboration to achieve healthcare sustainability. Packaging partners are no exception – the contract packaging market plays a vital role in the supply and value circle in aiding ESG initiatives.  

For packaging specifically, there are several considerations that need to be accounted for to take the most impactful steps forward. Three main brackets of consideration Hunt laid out start with ensuring actions focus on the most meaningful areas for healthcare packaging with a well-structured plan of action. The United Nations Sustainable Development goals, for example, lays out areas of materiality for focus with specific areas where the material packaging and production will have the most impact on overall healthcare sustainability (energy management, product design and lifecycle management, water and wastewater etc.). The second bracket requires packaging companies to have progressive actions in place to deliver an impact, rather than simply awareness of the issue at hand. Persistent, progressive action within an achievable timeframe is critical for packaging companies to deliver their sustainability goals. Finally, the right targets must be in place to ensure confidence in achieving them within the value circle. 

While challenges will inevitably present themselves to packaging partners, Hunt offered a shift in mindset to view them as opportunities. More organically, a shift in philosophical thinking towards sustainability and healthcare is already in the works – 19 out of 20 of the top medical device and pharmaceutical companies have aligned themselves around decarbonisation goals. However, similar alignment and agreement on how to achieve these goals remain to be seen from the value circle, something to work toward. Data also presents the opportunity to increase transparency throughout the value circle. Getting the data and sharing it will become a challenging new opportunity for not only pharmaceutical packaging companies but the entire value circle and supply partners to innovate and standardise information for the shared goals of sustainable healthcare. 

View the webinar on-demand here.

Related News