Hearts, stars, diamonds: Pharma could turn pill shapes into Lucky Charms

Courtesy of Colorcon

The FDA's new guidelines for pill design may be the stick driving drugmakers to consider medication errors when blueprinting their drugs. But there's a carrot, too. With new tablet technologies, companies have more freedom to build their brands by making their pills distinctive.

It's sort of like marketing in a bottle. We all know about Pfizer's ($PFE) blue-diamond-shaped Viagra, and AstraZeneca's ($AZN) "little purple pill," Nexium. And there are plenty of other opportunities to turn a tablet into a marketing piece, Outsourcing-Pharma reports.

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), for instance, has a "tilt-tab" designed to make its Parkinson's disease drug Requip easier to pick up. Parkinson's patients often have trouble grabbing their pills off tabletops. GSK's tablet has five sides and a pointed fulcrum that keeps it from lying flat.

Colorcon, which works with drugmakers to shape and coat their pills, has a library of pill samples in 40,000 different colors and multifarious shapes. Convex triangles, faceted diamonds, peanut shapes--the company even tried a heart-shaped pill for a cardiac drug, but patients didn't like the regular reminder of their heart disease.

Other reminders can be helpful, though. The company has printed dosing directions on a tablet's surface--once a day--to help patients remember how to comply with their prescriptions.

Pfizer has obviously found that design can help a brand. In addition to Viagra's diamond tablet, the company developed a chewable version of the drug for the Mexican market, where some men had trouble swallowing the pill. After the new version, Viagra Jet, rolled out, a study found that men thought it worked faster and lasted longer than the original--despite the fact, study authors said, that it actually didn't.

- read the Outsourcing-Pharma piece

Special Reports: Top 10 pharma advertising budgets - GlaxoSmithKline - Pfizer - AstraZeneca | Top 10 patent losses of 2014 - Nexium