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Lucy Chard
17 Feb 2023

Pharmapack Europe 2023 Award Winners – Owen Mumford for Drug Delivery Innovation

Michael Earl, Director of Pharmaceutical Services at Owen Mumford, accepting the award at Pharmapack Europe 2023

We interview the winners of the Pharmapack Europe Awards 2023, which were held at Pharmapack in Paris. The winners, chosen by a jury, each developed an innovative solution in the categories of Drug Delivery Innovation, Packaging Innovation, Sustainability Initiative, Eco-Design, and Patient-Centric Design. 

The winner of this year's Award for Drug Delivery Innovation was Owen Mumford Pharmaceutical Services for their product, the UniSafe® reusable connected auto-injector. The auto-injector provides drug delivery that does not depend on battery function as it has a lifetime battery and so ensures patients always receive their medication. In this interview we spoke to Michael Earl, Director of Pharmaceutical Services at Owen Mumford. 

Please can you give a little bit of background information about yourself, your team and Owen Mumford?

Owen Mumford is a company that has been involved in medical device development since it was founded more than 70 years ago. We started off in anaesthesia, and then in the mid-80s we introduced autoinjectors into the market. Since then we have carried out a succession of projects; some that are disposable autoinjectors, some that are reusable. We also still do a number of bespoke devices for pharma companies who have particular needs in terms of drug delivery devices. I have been with Owen Mumford for two years, before that, I was in a very similar role for Bespak (by Recipharm, UK). The bulk of my experience has been in the pharma biotech industry, which I joined in 1985, so a very long time ago! 

Congratulations on winning the award for Drug Delivery innovation Award for your device, UniSafe® reusable connected auto-injector, please can you describe the product for us and what makes it so unique?

It is a reusable autoinjector, which uses as the container for the drug, our UniSafe® 1 ml safety syringe, which is a product that is already in the market and being used in patients in Europe and Asia. The primary container for the drug is a perfectly standard 1 ml long prefilled syringe. A product that lots of companies already have their drug in. The reusable autoinjector takes the UniSafe® safety syringe as the disposable ‘cartridge’ or ‘cassette’ for the drug. It is a mechanically powered reusable autoinjector, which also has a connectivity option. The device has electronic injection indicators for patient guidance and then also data transmission. As it is mechanically powered, you don’t have to charge it. It has a 2-year use life, and the battery is good for longer than that. Where it is really special is that it functions once loaded as a perfectly normal, easy to use, 2-step autoinjector, it just happens to be reusable. From a sustainability point of view, the plastic you’re throwing away is minimised. We see this as being a product for customers who are being given injections more frequently. If you are using a disposable autoinjector for someone who is administering a drug 2–4 times a week or maybe daily, if you’re throwing away a disposable autoinjector every time you’re injecting one of those, it’s not very sustainable at all. This is a step towards a more sustainable form of autoinjector. 

Can you describe how the idea and development of this product came about? 

Owen Mumford as a company has been focused on sustainability for a number of years now. We have been a part of the UN Global Compact for a while; we’re a certified B Corporation; Owen Mumford is still a privately owned company, and the owners are very committed to doing the right thing. The idea of providing a more sustainable approach to building an autoinjector has been around in the company for a long while and building in the connectively option, for example, is something with an eye to the future. Some pharma companies are already looking to use connected devices for certain drug administrations, we think that will build in the future as well, future proofing the device. The cornerstone of this development is really sustainability. 

A note on being a registered B Corp since about a year and a half ago. There are very few medical device companies that have this status. It’s a real commitment because you need to fundamentally change the underlying purpose of the Company away from "just” making money, going as far as changing the Articles of Association to build this into the constitution and governance - but this resonates with the ethos of the company too. About 18 months ago pharma companies started to really take sustainability seriously, tuning into COP26 and the like, and nowadays we have to go through really rigorous assessments to make sure we fit the profile of a supplier that some of the big pharma companies want to ensure that we align with their scope 3 objectives. 

Many pharmaceutical companies are working towards major sustainability goals such as Net Zero, what challenges can you foresee in this, and do you think these goals are achievable? 

Our stated ambition is to halve our emissions by 2030 and be Net Zero by 2045. I think the industry will overcome challenges in this, but it’s going to take a lot of commitment and effort to do this. There’s always a trade off, and if you start with the obvious examples, the materials that we use, a lot of what we do is moulding plastic, inherently that uses quite a lot of energy and looking at the products you get at the end, they aren’t always recyclable. The problem is, when you’re talking about medical devices in general, you’ve got to consider if you can change the material to be more sustainable, but it’s still got to do the job. When you take things like inhalers for example, where the plastic is in contact with the drug, you’ve got to make sure that what you’re replacing that with doesn’t interact badly with the drug. The primary concern for drug makers is always going to be the integrity and the efficacy of the drug that is being delivered. If you look at our principle space with autoinjectors, ideally we want to make them recyclable, but bear in mind, a used autoinjector contains a needle that has been inside a patient, so is inherently a biohazard. And right now, in most countries, the only way you can legally deal with a biohazard such as that is by incineration. So how does that fit? To come back to the UniSafe® autoinjector, we’ve minimised the amount of plastic that’s associated with the used part of the device. What we are looking to do with future products is looking at whole life cycle – circular processing of products that have been used. We have a dedicated engineer within our R&D group whose job is purely sustainability and it’s an integral part of everything that we try to design now. 

What do you think the pharmaceutical packaging industry needs to do to achieve a higher level of sustainability as a whole? 

I think materials and recycling are the two obvious things that the packaging industry and the pharma industry need to work together on. Whatever we try to produce that will be more sustainable has then got to be acceptable to the pharma companies. It’s still got to do the job. Agreeing what the job is and what the minimum specifications are for the packing material or device is only possible with the buy-in of the pharma customers. We could produce a fantastically sustainable autoinjector made out of cardboard, and pharma companies may turnaround and say that doesn’t meet our needs and we won’t get anywhere! We are in constant dialog with our existing and all of our potential customers on ways to try and resolve these issues. 

How will winning the award here at Pharmapack help support you as a company? 

It’s enhanced profile for us, whenever you’re introducing a new product, publicity is obviously important and actually differentiating from previous products, so what is it about this product that is different? If you win an award, people will think okay there must be something there! And they tend to engage off of the back of that. 

What more can we look forward to seeing from Owen Mumford in the future?

We’re focused still on trying to improve autoinjection. The need for drug delivery at home compared to in hospital is not going to go away, there are particular challenges involved with moving drugs from intravenous to subcutaneous:, drug reconstitution, monitoring and compliance, connectivity, all those things we are still working on and will continue to see more medical device products come out. We will always be patient centric, we spend a lot of time to make sure that products are engineered simply to do the job that they’re meant for, but as I said earlier, sustainability is going to be a really core value for us and that will drive our product development.

Mentioned Companies
Owen Mumford Ltd
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Lucy Chard
Digital Editor - Pharma

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