People observing an industry like to look for trends to find out “What’s new?” and “What’s the next big thing?” Answering these questions usually begins by looking at recent developments because they point the direction of the future. Within the pharmaceutical industry, the simple answer is, a lot is going on, much of it involving automation.
Michalle Adkins takes stock of what’s been happening over the last few years in a column in the November 2017 issue of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing. Her Reflection, Inflection and Direction column begin with a reflection on some changes influencing where companies are headed.
It is incredible to reflect on 21st century advances in life sciences. The mapping of the human genome was completed in 2003, and the gene responsible for a cancer’s surface cell protein was identified. Medications are now available to block these proteins and prevent cancer cell growth. The intricacies of the immune system are more understood now than ever before, resulting in new products enabling a patient’s immune system to fight off cancer cells.
She points out that these improvements are often the result of new technologies able to improve processes so they can create purer and more concentrated products. We’ve come a long way, but there is still far to go.
More treatments are available now than ever before, but new therapies are still needed. Companies must make a profit to stay in business and invest in acquisitions, partnerships and R&D. Therefore, better ways of operating are emerging to drive down costs, making more products available to more people.
Michalle cites four specific technologies as keys to more effective manufacturing and better patient care: single-use processing, continuous manufacturing, Pharma 4.0 and personalized medicine. Each of these has its promises, but also its challenges.
Single-Use Processing: Advantages include a smaller manufacturing footprint, fewer cleaning chemicals, less energy usage and more production flexibility. Challenges include more complicated setup, tracking of additional components and disposables waste handling.
Continuous Manufacturing: Challenges include in-process monitoring, material traceability and deploying new control schemes.
Pharma 4.0: This includes IoT, data exchange in the manufacturing space, cloud-based solutions and more. Capturing more data and putting it in context — then using it to build models manually or automatically — can help pharma manufacturers prevent problems, react to issues and optimize processes.
Personalized Medicine: Potential benefits are tremendous because the patient receives the exact treatment for their specific circumstance, and no more, reducing side effects. Challenges include complete traceability to ensure the right product gets to the right patient, in-process tracking of many batches, and the tremendous amounts of stored data.
These all represent huge advances, but are very different things. Nonetheless, there is one common denominator: automation. The right manufacturing automation technologies make these advances possible and practical. For example, continuous manufacturing can’t happen without continuous monitoring and better control schemes. That’s what Emerson is about.
Automation — including enhanced process modeling, predictive analytics and plug-and-play solutions — is a critical lever for capitalizing on these trends. New and improved technology will propel us into this future with various automation components underpinning success. Suppliers to the life sciences industry are investing in these technologies, and in turn investing in patients by developing/improving products and services to meet future demands.
If you’re trying to tame these challenges, you can find resources and meet with other people looking at the same kinds of situations in the Emerson Exchange365 community. It’s a place where you can communicate and exchange information with experts and peers in all sorts of industries around the world.
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