Pharmaceutical co-packer sets sights on rapid future growth with proactive capital investment to boost its throughput capacity.
March 9, 2016
by George Guidoni, Editor; Photos by Pierre Longtin
Contrary to popular belief, the global pharmaceutical industry is not immune to the ups and downs of economic cycles and recessionary downturns, with its heavy emphasis on research-and-development often stretching financial resources of many of the Big Pharma’s leading global lights.
With an average drug development process taking 10 to 15 years and about a billion dollars or more before commercialization, vigilant cost containment is a necessary requirement for to- day’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies—especially in light of intense pricing pressures brought about by fierce competition from generic drug-makers in recent years.
To save costs wherever they can, many leading pharma producers—as well as their generic competitors—are increasingly outsourcing their manufacturing and packaging functions to companies like the Montreal-based Fillab Inc.
Operating out of a 20,000-square-foot production and storage facility in Montreal, the privately- owned company has been enabling many of its customers in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical businesses to succeed with superior third-party manufacturing and co-packing services that let its clients concentrate on their core business of new product development.
“Our production output has doubled in the past five years, and we are aiming to double it again in the next two to three years,” says Fillab’s director of operations Jean-François Paquin, explaining that the company, founded in 1988, had strategic-ally redefined its focus back in 2000 to cater primarily to the needs of the fast-growing generic pharmaceutical industry.
“Our main customers are pharmaceutical companies and natural product manufacturers who either don’t have any packaging capabilities or whose manufacturing volumes exceed their packaging capacity,” says Paquin.
“In many cases, we are able to provide them pack- aging services at a lower cost than what they can do in-house,” adds Paquin, citing the company’s highly diversified and comprehensive skillset encompassing all the popular pharmaceutical/nutraceutical packaging formats, including:
With speed-to-market and zero tolerance for error being two of the pharmaceutical industry’s prevailing requirements, Fillab is constantly upgrading its process flow and production equipment to stay on the leading edge, according to Paquin.
“Over the years we have identified a need in the pharmaceutical industry, especially in the generic market, for a reliable contract packager who would be able to deliver efficient services and meet the regulatory requirements at an affordable rate,” Paquin relates.
“To that end, we made it our corporate mission to contribute to the success of our clients by offering them packaging services which are fast, effective, and offer the best quality-price ratio available on the market.
“To date, our success has occurred by sticking to our mission and working truly in partnership with our clients,” says Paquin, citing scheduling flexibility as one of Fillab’s core competitive strengths.
“We operate one or two shifts daily throughout the year, including weekends if needed, depending on the demand,” he relates.
“Our whole operation is structured to enable us to employ a high variance of production workers on a very short notice.
“In over 10 years of analysis, we have identified no recurring tendencies or particular cycle in the demand,” Paquin notes, “which is why we developed a structure that adjusts quickly to the changes in demand.
“With our key personnel in place and our training procedures continually upgraded, we manage to go through our peak periods very efficiently,” he states.
“This is the nature of our business as a contract packager: We have to be available when our clients need us,” Paquin stresses.
FAR AND WIDE
“And that’s exactly what our clients really appreciate when they get to know Fillab,” says Paquin, noting that in addition to building a loyal Canadian customer base, the company has also been able to attract notable clients from the U.S. and across Asia over the last decade.
Nowadays operating six production cleanrooms, the company spent about a million dollars in various upgrades since 2000 to install a state-of-the-art HEPA-filtered HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) system at the Montreal facility’s packaging rooms, followed by continuous machine upgrades to meet growing demand and fine-tune the facility’s fairly automated process.
“To achieve a quick turnaround on a new project, our primary packaging is automated and the secondary packaging is mostly done through a semi-automated process employing strict inline quality inspection procedures and devices, such as checkweighers and inspection cameras, to ensure we meet all the pharmaceutical quality standards,” Paquin relates.
With demand for its services continuing to grow, last year Fillab’s management decided to make its biggest single capital upgrade to date, Paquin reveals, setting aside about $2 million for the installation of a new high-speed production line that would meet and exceed all of the industry’s cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) quality management standards for years to come.
“To meet our needs in packaging volumes and regulation compliance, we decided to look for a high-speed tablet line which would include metal detection, cap presence and alignment detector, inspection cameras for labeling with serialization, and the latest technology available on the market for tablet counting,” relates Fillab’s director of quality assurance and control Adriana Malizia.
“We wanted to ensure that our new line was equipped with the most recent technological advances in quality control in order to ensure not only compliance with Health Canada regulations, but also achieve the highest satisfaction and confidence levels among our clients,” Malizia points out.
“To update our solid dosage packaging capabilities in a market that is continuously changing, we decided to seek the help of a reputable Top Tier supplier capable of providing us with a versatile turnkey solution.
“And because we package so many different products,” she adds, “finding the quickest changeover capabilities available on the market was also an important part of our selection, evaluation and purchasing process.”
After evaluating available options, Fillab ultimately selected nearby packaging machine-builder Capmatic Ltd.—a well-established, highly reputable Montreal-based manufacturer of filling, capping, labeling and other automated packaging systems for pharmaceutical, healthcare, food and other key industries—as its supplier of choice.
Currently in the process of commissioning, the highly automated, high-speed turnkey packaging line designed for the Fillab plant includes:
“Our decision came about fairly easily when we outlined our deciding factors for purchasing equipment with those key elements of quality, reliability and versatility,” Paquin remarks.
“Being a privately-owned company allows us to make rapid and effective investment decisions,” he notes, “and it was clear to us early on that Capmatic was the right choice for our current and future needs.”
Says Paquin: “This line can produce 100 bottles per minute for 100-count fills, which reassures us that our packaging needs will be fulfilled for many years to come.
“Having this peace of mind is priceless,” Paquin asserts. “We are very proud to be able to say that we have a complete solid dosage packaging solution from one of the top companies in the industry.
“This investment was intended to enable us to exceed the growing demand we face in this sector of activity, to remain consistent with our mission statement, and to be able to reach our goal of increasing our production output,” he expands.
“For all these reasons, we were very happy to choose the Street Fighter tablet filling line for our growing business.”
Malizia concurs, adding she appreciates the Street Fighter counter’s inherent flexibility for handling various pill formats—including tablets, caplets, hard caps and soft-gels—along with a wide range of container sizes and shapes, with minimal change-over time requirements.
As Paquin explains, “All our processes have been created to lead directly to our output.
“In an industry as regulated as pharmaceutical packaging, we have to make sure not to get caught doing any additional process with no added value for the company.
“The combination of Top Tier packaging equipment and our team of highly-qualified personnel with several years of experience in the pharmaceutical sector, will allow us to continue to collaborate with our customers in such a way as to become a contributing partner to their growth and success, along with complete satisfaction with the services we render and the high standards we continuously strive to achieve.”