“Doing now what patients need next,” is part of the purpose statement on F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG’s website. It continues, “we believe it’s urgent to deliver medical solutions right now—even as we develop innovations for the future.”
Clinical trials embody those innovation goals for Basel, Switzerland-based Roche, which counted 367,283 patients in phase I through IV clinical trials in 2014, a year in which it invested $8.9 billion in R&D for medicines and diagnostic tests.
Packaging continues to serve an important role in the company’s clinical trial efforts. In May 2015, for example, Roche began using what it refers to as its “Multipack,” for glass vials and bottles in clinical trials applications in the U.S. and Switzerland.
Rondo-Pak’s Safepack carton is shock- and vibration-resistant and commercially available. Rondo-Pak is a Medipak Systems Group company. Medipak Systems is the Pharma Systems business area of the Korber Group. The cartonboard is provided by Metsä Board.
“Rondo-Pak is a strategic partner with state-of-the-art technology giving us the opportunity to support our sites, especially in the U.S.,” says Ebuel Sirmats, Packaging Engineer, Global Packaging Development for F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd.
Rondo-Pak’s Safepack is designed to naturally dissipate vibration, resulting in dramatically reduced breakage potential for glass or other contents. Safepack features a double-walled construction and auto-actuating cushion flaps on its top and bottom that protect against severe impact and provide crush resistance. Efficient and versatile, Safepack utilizes an integrated partition that makes it easy to implement on both manual and automated packaging lines. Made of 100% recyclable paperboard, Safepack also meets demands for increased eco-friendliness and sustainability.
The cartons will be used first in Roche’s facilities in Switzerland and U.S., he says, “for manual packing, especially for vials with valuable and expensive content, but machinability is the next focus.” Sirmats says the new cartons replace former versions that used top-and-bottom inserts.
“The Safepack design provides peace of mind that products will not be damaged in transport, without the extra expense of alternate solutions with similar protective properties,” says Victor Dixon, President & COO of Rondo-Pak. “For our partnership with Roche, it also became a one-size-fits-all solution that allowed for a streamlined packaging process.”
“The Multipack was developed in order to increase the safety for our patients," says Sirmats. "This unique design meets various physical performance standards, providing its ability to prevent fragile content from breakage during transport or even when the patient drops the package accidentally.
“Currently,” he adds, “it is implemented and available for patients in clinical supply but we are laying the foundation to make it available on a commercial level as well. The forward-looking implementation of this packaging solution will set a standard and enable us to comply with increasing future industry regulatory requirements. At the same time, it harmonizes our packaging portfolio to a slim and sustainable solution and adds more value to our business with significant savings in terms of cost, time, waste, and warehouse storage.”
He points out that the Multipack, “Gives healthcare professionals, clinics, and our patients worldwide the option to identify the safety of our products. One difference compared to other packaging configurations is that one format can fit multiple sizes of products (e.g., vials). Fewer formats also reduce the need we had for additional storage and maintenance,” of former cartons, which weren’t as readily available or in stock.
“It is not easy to challenge the environment with a new product, but this project takes the initiative to be the first in Roche and in the pharma industry,” says Sirmats. "The development of this design was very challenging, with several adjustments needed in order to pass industry standards and physical test methods.”
Sirmats notes, “Besides being a challenge for Roche it was also a challenge for our material supplier. The objective of this project was to reduce complexity and at the same time develop a robust and machine-processable solution for our current or future setup, and at different sites. This could only be achieved with a very unusual approach. We did not shape the box according to the vial size—we implemented a box size that several vials (or bottles) could use. With the implementation of this new design strategy a chain reaction started, which resulted in the elimination of complex structures.”
Not only did Roche and Rondo-Pak design all those advantages, but they also helped meet output demand without interfering with the current production process. It was rolled out and implemented in less than 12 months.
There are economic benefits as well.
“The carton can be purchased once, and in larger volumes, which is more cost-effective," Sirmats notes. "Therefore, studies and projects, especially urgent ones, can be processed much faster. The design of the Multipack makes the usage of inserts and other formats obsolete, saving millions of inserts each year. That saves time during assembly, and results in less waste (sustainability), cost reduction, process and machinability gains, more space in the warehouse, and less transport cost.
“The old vial packaging portfolio will now be slowly removed, together with all formats, SAP, and spec numbers,” he continues. “A leaner portfolio results in less CO2 waste, less maintenance and processing time for purchasing, specification management, and Master data. Usage of paperboard instead of mineral oil-based cushion pads is a significant sustainability benefit. The design was made to fit perfectly in currently used shippers to avoid any useless headspace or air shipment.”
In September, Pro Carton, the European Association of Carton and Cartonboard manufacturers, honored the package as its Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Winner, crediting Sirmats and Rondo-Pak’s Cemil Ertürk for their design efforts. Pro Carton praised the packaging for containing glass bottles and keeping them in place using an insert and the double-walled design that protects the bottles from all sides.
Pro Carton also noted the insert is made of a single piece of cartonboard and bonded in one position only; holders made of plastic or foam are no longer required.