U.S. demand for pharmaceutical packaging products is expected to increase slightly in the next few years as drug makers upgrade the barrier, security and functional properties of their packaging systems.

According to market research firm Freedonia, growth is anticipated to pick up from the pace seen in 2008-2013. The market for pharmaceutical packaging products in the United States will be worth an estimated $22.1 billion by 2018, with demand rising by about 4.9 percent annually.

Looking at the various types of pharmaceutical packaging, parenteral containers are expected to show the fastest gains in demand as advances in biotechnology lead to the introduction of new injectable therapies adapted to prefillable syringes, unit dose vials and premixed IV bags.

Plastic bottles will remain the most significant form of pharmaceutical container, both in revenues generated and units sold. Freedonia said in its report that this reflects their widespread use in the packaging of oral drugs distributed in bulk and prescription dose volumes to retail and mail order pharmacies. In addition, plastic bottles will continue to dominate applications as containers for OTC medicines sold in tablet and capsule quantities of 50 or more.

Increasing competition will come from blister packs, which will generate the second largest share of revenues among primary pharmaceutical containers through 2018 and beyond, the report predicts.

Looking at other types of packaging, the growing number of asthma, allergy and migraine patients treated with inhalation drugs will result in greater demand for prefillable inhalers. Freedonia expects the markets for pharmaceutical pouches and medication tubes to expand more slowly as the vast majority of applications remain limited to topical medication packaging.

U.S. demand for glass pharmaceutical bottles will continue on a downward trend as these are replaced by plastic bottles and blister packs. But strip packs will register strong demand due to their adaptability to economical unit dose formats, the report said.

Demand for security packaging accessories in the United States is expected to remain buoyant. Total U.S. demand for pharmaceutical closures, labels, secondary containers and other packaging accessories will grow by an estimated 4.7 percent annually to nearly $7.5 billion by 2018. The fastest gains will be seen for child-resistant, senior-friendly and dispensing closures; high visibility labels; and tamper-evident and other security accessories.