The world's largest packaging exhibition, interpack, takes place in Germany this month, and the focus among many pharmaceutical packaging suppliers is firmly on supply chain security. With the EU’s Falsified Medicines Directive deadline due to coincide with the next interpack in 2017, labelling and coding companies will be taking the opportunity to demonstrate their serialisation solutions to visitors, some of whom may barely have started on the road to compliance.
Meanwhile, others will be keen to emphasise the importance of protecting products in the supply chain through a variety of overt and covert security measures aimed at making it more difficult for those with criminal intentions to introduce counterfeit or contaminated products into the official supply chain.
The vital nature of such measures was highlighted in April by the discovery of the theft in Italy of vials of Herceptin, Alimta and Remicade. Some of these were tampered with and re-introduced into the supply chain in some countries. Prompt action resulted in a rapid recall of suspect stocks and to date no harm to patients appears to have been caused.
The increasing complexity of the global supply chain is a major issue, with raw materials, intermediates, packaging and finished product being passing through many hands before they reach the end consumer. Keeping track of multiple suppliers, contract service companies and distributors would be hard enough even if there were a standard set of international shipping regulations.
But a combination of foot-dragging and vested interests has led to a hotchpotch of national and regional legislation that creates a plethora of stumbling blocks to trip up the unwary when trying to implement a secure global supply chain.
In high value sectors there will always be criminal activity and even the most sophisticated anticounterfeiting measures will be circumvented if the incentives are great enough. All the packaging manufacturers can do is to hold back the tide for as long as possible while developing the next generation technology.