With the government considering a blanket ban on all forms of single-use plastic, pharma major Biocon on Thursday indicated it could replace the disposable plastic pens with reusable ones for insulin products.
The pharma industry said the government has indicated to it that it could find a solution for replacing the use of single-use plastic for pharma packaging within a year’s time or so. According to reports, the blanket ban has been held off, at least for the moment, given the industry is grappling with slowdown blues and it could be disruptive if implemented right away.
Meanwhile, Biocon’s Chairperson and Managing Director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw tweeted on Thursday: “As a responsible company, we would like to lead the way in replacing disposable plastic pens with reusable pens for insulin products. I hope patients cooperate.” She said it was up to individuals and individual corporations to initiate a plastic reduction plan.
A company spokesperson clarified that Biocon had already introduced a reusable insulin pen called INSUPen in 2011. Biocon’s ready-to-use pre-filled disposable pen with insulin Glargine is manufactured at its plant in Bengaluru.
Disposable pens are generally more convenient than reusable ones because a user does not need to load any cartridge. The downside is that they usually cost more and also contribute to a significant amount of medical waste. Shaw in a blog in April had pointed out that when given the choice, more people are likely to choose the more affordable and environmentally friendlier reusable pens.
“Disposable pens should only be given to the very old or the very young, who would find it difficult to load a reusable pen,” she had then said.
The reusable insulin pen market in India is largely dominated by French player Sanofi and Danish Novo Nordisk. Sanofi had introduced a reusable insulin pen some years back.
Meanwhile, the other pharma majors have not yet announced any significant measures to alter their packaging to cut down on single-use plastic. An industry source indicated that the government has verbally indicated to the industry that it has around one year until it can come up with an alternative to packaging with single-use plastic.
The chairman of a pharma company, which ranks among the top 10 players here, said, “If pharma packaging for liquid oral formulations is done in glass bottles, the costs would increase significantly. There are also issues around waste. We can definitely move towards more environment-friendly ways, but then the government has to allow us to increase the prices and it is not possible to absorb the costs.”
He also claimed that the same cannot be implemented for products outside of the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) under price control. “For non-NLEM products, the maximum price rise allowed every year is 10 per cent. The pharma industry is already under stringent regulatory pressure,” he added.
Sudarshan Jain, secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which represents leading pharma companies in India, said the pharma industry was mulling over options to cut down on single-use plastic, but it would take some time.
“Companies can cut down on plastic once we have clarity from the government on the pricing front,” said Jain.
“Since export markets allow medicines to be packed in plastic bottles, the industry also feels implementing two separate packaging lines for glass and plastic bottles is also not viable.”