Cypak, a Swedish company specialising in novel forms of packaging, has signed what promises to be a major new deal for a 'smart' blister pack system that can detect if patient is taking medication as prescribed.
The system promises to be a cheaper and more secure alternative to radiofrequency identification (RFID), which is just starting to emerge in the pharmaceutical industry as a means of tracking the supply and use of medicines.
Non-compliance with drugs is a major problem, with knock on effects not only on the patient - who may fail to see a benefit from treatment - but also for health services who must squeeze the most benefit out of every intervention as the cost of providing care increases.
Cypak has licensed sole rights to its so-called Intelligent Pharmaceutical Packaging (IPP) system to MeadWestvaco, one of the largest companies in this sector in the world, in the America, as well as non-exclusive rights outside this region.
The IPP system looks like a standard blister pack, but has a microelectronic sensor within the pack's paper board that records and time stamps every time a medicine is pushed out of the packaging. The data is stored within the pack and can be read by placing it on a scanner device that is compatible with a PC, allowing the patient's doctor to monitor drug usage.
The microelectronics within the pack include a piezoelectric signal generator which can be used to generate reminders for patients when it is time to take another dose. The technology, based on conductive ink, also allows patient questionnaires to be incorporated into the packaging. The user simply presses on the pack to register a response.
An integrated temperature sensor is also present to warn of the possible decline in the medicine's activity should storage recommendations not followed, a feature that may be particularly useful for medicines that require refrigeration. The packaging can be adapted to work with any standard blister packaging for tablets, ampoules, syringes etc.
The early applications of the system will be in clinical trials, in which it is essential to check that patients are taking their medication if the results of the study are to be relied on. A spokeswoman for the company said that in time it is possible that the technology will be used in commercial products, although issues such as its price will limit these applications to specific applications.
For example, Cypak has already been contacted by one pharmaceutical interested in using the IPP system with a drug to prevent rejection of transplanted organs - a situation in which non-compliance with medication could prove fatal.
Studies in the UK have suggested that more about half of the medicines prescribed for patients with long term conditions are not taken as prescribed. The knock-on effects are broad, and can include ill health and reduced quality of life, reduced life expectancy, avoidable healthcare costs and wasted medicines.
Cypak has already supplied 1,200 packs to the University of Lund in Sweden, which is conducting a study to test compliance with cholesterol-lowering medications.
The primary alternative to Cypak's technology is RFID. The spokeswoman noted that Cypak looked at this technology but decided against it for one fundamental reason. By its very nature, RFID can be used to read data at a distance, and in pharmaceutical applications this could raise issues of patient confidentiality. IPP packs must be placed on a scanner to allow the data to be read.
In addition, the IPP system is cheaper to make, as it uses a simple graphite based conductance ink, compared to the copper or silver-based inks used in RFID, and can be made using an ordinary screen printer. The cost of implementing a reader is 10-20 times cheaper with IPP than with RFID, she added, and has a battery life of up to three years, longer than is achievable with RFID.
MeadWestvaco is currently looking at ways to integrate the IPP system in its child-resistant Dosepack product, and expects to have pilot projects ongoing with potential customers in the spring.
Under the terms of the agreement with MeadWestvaco, Cypak will supply components and receive a royalty on every package sold.