Novartis finds blister packs sell more drugs

If recent research by Novartis ($NVS) pans out, plants may be adding blister pack lines to help boost sales.

Research by the Swiss drugmaker and consulting firm Xcenda found that patients who got their Diovan HCT in blister packs with calendars bought refills 5 days sooner than those getting them in traditional amber bottles, The Wall Street Journal reportsThey also stayed on their meds 22 days longer over the course of a year.

There are other forces at play that may push drugmakers to rethink how they package certain drugs. Under provisions of the Affordable Healthcare Act going into effect next year, reimbursements to health plans for Medicare patients can be docked if patients are not keeping up with refills for their cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes drugs, meaning insurers may be looking for packaging ploys that boost adherence. And some pharmacies like Wal-Mart and Kroger already are using reminder packs for some drugs to set themselves apart from competitors. Wal-Mart intends to expand their use this year, The Wall Street Journal reports.

At the same time, the FDA is looking for ways to consolidate all of the drug information that patients now get from labels and information sheets into a single, more readable form that it hopes will help patients get what they need.

Of course packaging plants are expensive and one researcher says before drugmakers and packagers add to blister lines, more research needs to be done to see if the potential for blister packs to increase drug adherence outweighs their higher cost. Duke University professor Hayden Bosworth estimates that blister packs cost up to three times more than typical pill bottles. He is doing randomized research to see if they really pay off.

But sensing a shift, some in the market are already responding. Richard Shannon, head of business development in Europe for contract manufacturer Almac, said the company has seen a move by the industry toward blister packs and wallet cards to improve patient adherence to dosing regimens. "We have invested heavily in blistering packs and wallet card automation based on where we see the market moving in the U.S. and Europe."

- read The Wall Street Journal's story