Making it better – pharmaceutical packaging

Packaging Professional magazine
12 Mar 2010
Pill packet

Chris Penfold, CEO of Nottingham-based pharma packaging
consultancy Design Cognition, presents The Packaging Society’s
Pharmaceutical Common Interest Group.

In the 1980s, before
the days of e-mail and the Internet, working in packaging could be a
lonely business, especially in an area like pharmaceuticals where
regulatory requirements, standards and processes were constantly being

Pharmaceutical companies are strictly regulated and
need to work to tight and common standards. At that time most companies
used similar packaging materials, machinery and quality systems so
learning from one another was beneficial. It was also important for the
industry to provide a collective view to positively influence proposed
legislation and regulations, with a pragmatic ‘voice’.

Haskins of Roussel Laboratories and Roy Gray of ICI Pharmaceuticals
came up with the idea of a common interest group in 1984 after Gray’s
manager visited USA and saw a successful American group working in the
same sector. The group would not have happened without their collective
vision and proactive approach.

The first Pharmaceutical Common
Interest Group (PCIG) meeting took place on 16 October 1984 at Sysonby
Lodge, Melton Mowbray, which was the headoffice of The Institute of
Packaging at the time. The meeting was chaired by Haskins, with Gray as
Secretary, was attended by 18 people from 15 pharmaceutical companies.
Thirty-seven questions were raised and discussed at that meeting,
including a new British Standard for aluminium flexible tubes, label
adhesives, tamper evidence and EAN (European Article Number) bar codes
– themes that would be repeated over the years.

One of the
original members, Mike Shorten, who worked for Boots Pharmaceuticals
and is now retired, recalls, ‘The PCIG soon became my most important
network. Forty pharmaceutical practitioners across all sectors of the
industry provided a powerful resource that could offer practical
experience about most issues and without any consultants’ fees! A great
strength of the group was the willingness of its members to talk openly
about issues and share best practice and then to collectively influence
new regulations and standards’.

Change and the CIG

have been a member of the group for over 18 years and have experienced
camaraderie, focused help and pragmatism with topics such as high
barrier blister materials, bar coding and leaching of preservative
through polyethylene bottles.

As issues became apparent,
common themes evolved and a number of dedicated subgroups were set up
to focus on specific areas. Four of these were – Working Groups for
Digital Artwork and Reprographics (DAR), Validation, Child Resistance,
and Quality Standards.

The DAR subgroup was set up at a time when ‘desktop publishing’ were buzz words being used as artwork generation moved from layout board to a computerised system. At the
time, there was no common standard. There was a range of hardware, a
number of operating systems, and various artwork creative software
packages on each platform. The ease by which artwork could be generated
and manipulated raised its own issues in terms of version control and
(in the early days) data going ‘missing’ between approval and print had
the potential to cause a catastrophic result. So the group played a
critical role in sharing best practice and setting appropriate

The Validation subgroup was formed in 1992, the
founding Chairman being Mike Harwood of The Wellcome Foundation,
Dartford. A subsequent Chairman (1993-98) John Cooper (of Pfizer at the
time) recalls, ‘The original intent was to develop a set of guidelines
for validating pharmaceutical packaging equipment and then issue to The
Packaging Society members, but as the guideline developed and the
information was shared informally with machine manufacturers it became
obvious that it would be of a wider benefit to publish a book.

I was a member both of the PCIG and Institute of Quality Assurance
Pharma Quality Group (IQA PQG), I suggested that this was published
jointly as a monograph in the series which was already established by
the PQG. The monograph was published in 1998 and launched at a joint
meeting of PCIG and PQG at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in
Lambeth.’ That was a defining moment for the PCIG and evidence of the
esteem with which the group was held within the pharmaceutical
industry. The third edition of that monograph is due for print.

was not uncommon in the early days for PCIG meeting attendance to be
around 35-40 people. Questions would be collated by the Secretary and
shared at each meeting. It would sometimes take three or four hours to
go through them all. Now, e-mail enables members to converse more
easily and questions can be asked and answered within minutes. So the
focus and frequency of face-to-face meetings changed to providing more
of an opportunity for in-depth discussion on processes, procedures,
technology and impending legislation, and to keep in touch with old
colleagues and friends. Together with the myriad of mergers among the
pharma companies, this has meant attendances have dropped.

Facing the future

The former PCIG (now called the Pharmaceutical Packaging Forum (PPF]) continues to thrive,
new voluntary Secretary, David Pethick, former Director of Packaging
Development at GSK, upbeat about the future, ‘The increase in demands
and changing regulations on pharma packaging present as much, if not
more, of a challenge as when PCIG was established’, he says. ‘The
Pharmaceutical Packaging Forum will continue to play an important role
in supporting the packaging professional, providing networking,
technical leadership and training as well as seeking to influence more

“The PCIG soon became my most important network”.

Further information:

Chris Penfolld