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.
Glass pharma packaging today is led by Schott, a company founded in 1884 by a man of the same name who invented the borosilicate glass that nearly all pharma companies still use today. While the longevity of his product is a testament to his genius, the world has gone nearly 140 years with almost no improvements to a product that desperately needs them.
Anyone who has worked in pharma or medicine long can talk at length about the problems of traditional glass products. They break easily, and even when they don’t break, they can cause delamination, a defect in which containers contaminate the medicines within them with potentially serious consequences. Incremental improvements have attempted to pacify buyers of pharma glass, but the world needs something better — especially with the COVID-19 vaccine approaching quickly.
Unfortunately, the same industry giants who have settled for incremental progress have decided not to hurry in the face of new pressures. The chairman of Schott recently spoke to the media on his commitment to reserve his glass supplies for the eventual winner of the COVID-19 vaccine race. That may be the safe choice, but while Schott keeps its supplies in reserve, smaller pharma and biotech companies are left out in the cold.
This pandemic should have inspired existing industry players to take action and innovate. Instead, they have responded with the same outdated thinking that has held back pharma glass for more than a century. It’s time to do better.
Breaking down an outdated process
Big glass manufacturers do not partner with their customers. They are simply order-takers. Customers get one option, and the companies fulfill that option. If they don’t like it, they have nowhere else to go.
Customers of established pharma glass companies report a humdrum sales process. The salesperson visits, makes small talk, asks how much they want, and places the order. Bigger customers might receive the occasional dinner invitation. No one feels like a partner. No one gets to voice complaints about unmet needs. The world spins as slowly as it always has.
What existing players in this industry have forgotten is that pharma glass is not a commodity. Far from it, pharma packaging plays host to a wealth of opportunities for anyone creative or bold enough to try something new. With so many customers unhappily settling for what they have always had, the advent of something better promises to shake the foundations of the pharma community.
Bringing true partnerships to pharma
Customers of companies like Schott (and the patients who deal with their products) have waited long enough. Finally, new contenders have risen to the challenge, invigorated by the demand generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.
These new pharma packaging companies don’t present a “take it or leave it” attitude. On the contrary, they want to know what their customers don’t like about existing products. They want to hear about problems with delamination, breakage rates, compromised samples, and all the other issues that have plagued the industry for so long. They want patients to receive the care they deserve, and they are ready to meet those needs with new products.
The new disruptors in pharma glass employ bright people in every part of pharmaceuticals from manufacturing to research and development. These contenders recognize that they face a market that has stagnated, and they want to bring something better to the table. Where the old guard focuses on maintaining sales numbers for outdated products, the new generation follows a patient- and customer-first approach.
That should scare the people who have sat comfortably at the top of pharma glass for far too long. The world is changing. Disruption has reached a new corner, and with the wheels in motion, the changes will not slow down until the industry has turned into something that hardly resembles its former self. Pharma glass has reached its moment, and by the time the COVID-19 vaccine finally enters production, the new market entrants will have staked their claims.