Next time you reach for that pill to help lower your
Over the past year, two drug packaging companies opened their doors in the Lehigh Valley, building on the region's small but important pharmaceuticals industry.
Daiichi Sankyo, a Japanese firm with U.S. headquarters in Parsippany, N.J., in 2011 bought a former printing and packaging facility less than a mile from Route 33 in
They join companies such as Sharp Packaging and Fisher Clinical Services in
LVEDC President and CEO
"It's a growing sector," he said. "It's certainly one of the areas that we have targeted for growth in the Valley."
For good reason. The Freedonia Group, a market research firm, says the pharmaceutical packaging industry has been growing around 5 percent a year and will become an $18.5 billion-a-year industry in the United States in 2014.
It's such a big business because there's a lot more to pharmaceutical packaging than simply dumping pills or liquid medicines into a bottle.
For one, it's a highly regulated industry. The
Daiichi Sankyo, which had $1.3 billion in net domestic sales last year, renovated a building in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VI following the FDA's guidelines. That helped meet an aggressive schedule that led to FDA approval to begin shipping last June, said Michael Dornhecker, senior director of plant operations.
Daiichi Sankyo specializes in therapies for hypertension,
"Everything we do is dictated by an SOP [standard operating procedure] on the floor," he said.
Employment at the plant is up to 68 workers staffing two shifts five days a week, Dornhecker said.
Drug packaging also is critical in marketing products and increasingly is used to help consumers properly take their medications.
"As the patient has become more savvy in the elements that contribute to their health, namely staying fit, getting good medical advice from reliable caregivers and medication therapy, they have brought into the mix their consumer behavior," said Daryl Madeira, QPSI's vice president of sales and marketing Daryl Madeira.
Blister packs, for example, can help consumers follow their daily dosage requirements, he said.
It's a field that has further to go, according to the French medical journal Prescrire. In its 2012 drug packaging awards issue, the editors called on packagers to increase safety for children and vulnerable populations by halting production of bulk bottles without safety caps, requiring blister packs for the most dangerous drugs and strengthening warnings about overdose risks.
Recognizing the differing safety and retailing demands in different countries, companies like QPSI offer clients flexibility and knowledge of distant markets, Madeira said.
QPSI is a contract company, packaging brand name and generic drugs from leading consumer product companies and non-pharmaceuticals from Fortune 100 consumer packaged goods companies. As a contract business, QPSI, based in Burlington, N.J., is able to navigate the regulatory environment in markets that may be unfamiliar to foreign drug manufacturers, Madeira said. If the client wants, QPSI will participate in the design of the package, he said.
"As the supply chain has become more global, packaging is the mechanism to allow drug sales to be more regional," Madeira said.
The local plant has 75 employees, Madeira said. When QPSI announced it was moving from Moonachie, N.J., it said it would employ as many as 283 people locally. At its current growth rate, Madeira said, the company could reach that target by next year.
It's no surprise that the companies cited the Lehigh Valley's location and highway access as a big reason for their local developments.
"It's geographically well located to pharmaceutical decision-makers," Madeira said, noting the many drug companies in New Jersey and suburban Philadelphia.
Like QPSI, Daiichi Sankyo received state assistance to bring its operations to the Lehigh Valley.
Part of the reasoning behind the state funding was a hope that drug manufacturing might be next.
When the local plant opened, Daiichi Sankyo President John Gargiulo said as much: "While we are opening a packaging facility today, our long-term plans are to expand these operations to include manufacturing."
To Cunningham, that's reason to dream of attaining the "gold standard" in good-paying, secure manufacturing jobs.
"In pharma, the hurdle that we'd like to get over is to move beyond the packaging and distribution to ultimately production or R&D [research and development] or other office use," Cunningham said. "Getting a piece of those operations here is critical to getting the discussion started."