Reflections from the SMi Pre-Filled Syringes and Injectable Drug Devices 2022 conference

Published on: 19th January 2022

DCA’s Rob Veasey and Paul Draper recently attended the SMi Pre-Filled Syringes conference. In this short article they reflect on the key themes discussed at this event.

It may not be a big surprise that two of the topics that featured prominently at the conference were connectivity and sustainability. It was observed that this conference has witnessed a natural progression from simple pre-filled syringes into richer delivery devices that offer user benefits and more recently into connected devices, targeting further unmet user needs. It is expected that the future will see much of this digital technology coming to market and also a real growth in engagement with more sustainable solutions. Indeed, it was commented by one speaker that he expects many drug delivery devices to become ‘connected’ in some way in the near future.

Below is a summary of our reflections on these two relevant topics.

1. Digital solutions are poised to transform our ability to identify and address unmet patient needs

A strong theme running through many presentations at the conference is the potential for digital and connected solutions to address unmet needs in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. There was discussion about ways to use digital devices and associated software to improve data collection within clinical studies and usability investigations, as well as connected devices and apps to help recognise, diagnose and treat medical conditions. Given the conference focus on injectable drug delivery, it is not surprising that much of the discussion was about how digital solutions can be used to help monitor and improve injection experience and patient adherence; but a clear observation by several speakers is the potential for wider ‘digital ecosystems’ to improve overall patient outcomes. This leads to several observations:

  • Given that connected device systems can be expensive to develop, manufacture and support, the data that they collect and provide must be relevant and add significant value for patients, HCP’s and therefore payers.
  • As connected devices and their companion apps take on a more central role in the treatment of patients it is imperative that the data they provide is accurate and reliable.
  • To gain widespread acceptance, it is essential that connected drug delivery devices reduce, rather than increase lifestyle ‘friction’ for patients. Such devices must be simple and convenient to use, adding few, if any, operating steps and being as close as possible to invisible until needed. Some of the less successful early connected drug delivery devices illustrate that this can be hard to achieve in practice.
  • In order to function successfully within wider digital eco-systems, connected devices will likely need to become more interoperable, allowing data to be shared seamlessly for access via a small number of common healthcare platforms.
2. ‘Take-back’ schemes, aimed at recycling used drug delivery devices, are gaining traction

Thought provoking presentations were given by Novo Nordisk and Johnson & Johnson on the topic of improving the sustainability of injectable drug delivery devices. Both speakers discussed ‘take-back’ schemes, which are targeted at collecting and recycling materials used in drug delivery devices. Novo Nordisk described three pilot schemes they have set up in Denmark, UK and Brazil, which are designed to collect and recycle their used disposable insulin pen injectors. Johnson & Johnson described a similar take-back scheme that they are working on to recycle drug delivery devices. Both speakers described key challenges that have been encountered in establishing these schemes:

  • Safe handling and processing of potentially hazardous waste, and particularly contaminated needles.
  • Ways to promote and encourage users to actively engage with these schemes, which inevitably require additional individual effort and motivation to make work.
  • How to make best use of the recycled / recovered material, which will not be suitable for use in the supply chain for new drug delivery devices.
  • The need for cross-industry collaboration, for example in how to co-ordinate and streamline a potential proliferation of different collection schemes from different pharmaceutical and device companies.

The pilot work undertaken by these companies suggests that these challenges can be overcome, but significant further work will be needed before ‘take-back’ can become a mainstream solution. And whilst such schemes may eventually become widespread, it seems likely that ‘take-back’ will be only one of many new initiatives that our industry will need to adopt in the face of sustainability challenges.

One final reflection weaving these two themes together is in reusable connected drug delivery technology. Reuse is clearly one of the best ways to reduce waste and improve sustainability, but can be hard to achieve with disposable devices. With careful design and engineering, reusable drug delivery devices can be developed that require minimal additional user steps and training over disposable variants. The addition of connected technology does give rise to further challenges when the reusable device eventually reaches its end of life, but it is envisaged that take-back schemes will naturally expand to include the recycling and disposal of electronic components.

A great example of our recent device development work is the AllStar® Connect insulin pen injector. This is a new reusable connected drug delivery solution that truly provides a “frictionless” implementation of connected technology.