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What happens to monopolized industries? They grow stale. The needs of customers go unmet as incumbents feel content to provide only small iterations, confident in their knowledge that they own the market outright.

Innovation thrives on competition. Businesses need to feel the pressure of disruption at their backs to pursue new ideas and meet the evolving needs of their customers. Industries with little competition invariably innovate less than industries where competition is rampant.

The tech boom of the last 20 years delivered a wake-up call to many industries that had previously considered themselves safe. By now, most markets have shifted to favor the innovators, but a few have fallen through the cracks. For one such industry, pharmaceuticals packaging, that's about to change.

Imagine someone announces a vaccine for COVID-19 tomorrow. People throw parades — at respectable social distances, of course. Politicians speak about the resilience of the population and the end of a global nightmare. Restaurants and gyms get ready to welcome back the masses, schools send out emails to prepare for fall classes, and then...everyone has to take it all back.

Why? Because the pharma system isn’t even close to ready to distribute vaccines on a large scale.

Dr. Rick Bright, former head of the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), was recently fired from his position for what he says were political reasons. Among other issues Bright raised that may have angered others within the government, he claimed that manufacturers of traditional borosilicate glass had already exhausted their supplies in May. Further, he projected that it could take two years to produce enough new glass to meet U.S. vaccine needs, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

Pharmaceutical drugs — and the people who use them — depend heavily on innovation. Researchers win Nobel Prizes for new discoveries, while those who benefit from those discoveries put their lives in the hands of those who treat them.

While the pharma industry is no stranger to the public spotlight, the COVID-19 pandemic took chaos and expectations to all-new levels. President Donald Trump announced Operation Warp Speed in May, his public effort to fast-track a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. People around the world who only paid attention to pharma when they had personal needs began following news on drug trials with the same enthusiasm they had watching their favorite sports teams just a few months earlier.

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