The new sophistication of the life sciences and pharma industries has been described as going “from manufacturing bikes to space shuttles”.
The ability to develop many different drugs of ever-increasing complexity means we can personalise therapies as never before, transforming the experience of patients.
Central to that transformation is the impact of digital technology, which is working hand in hand with science to produce better data, better analytics and better design that in turn translates into more efficient drug development and faster sector growth.
Scotland’s life sciences sector has grown rapidly over the past few years, sitting at £6bn in 2018. The new Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (MMIC), which will be operational by 2022, promises to catapult Scotland’s expertise and opportunity even further.
It will have a role at the heart of the innovation-to-commercialisation journey, building vital collaborations between academia, research scientists, manufacturers and policy makers.
Its potential has been made abundantly clear by the success of the development of vaccines for Covid-19. Not only has it pushed forward RNA technology that changes the genetic information necessary to combat viruses, but it has also demonstrated the power of working together across companies and across industries to get results fast.
At a round table discussion hosted by Accenture last month, there was a palpable energy in the (virtual) room to take on the collaborative approach that the vaccines development epitomised. As one guest put it: do we go back to ploughing our own field, or drive change by being a collaborator?
In the past, development was slowed by siloed business practices. But are we still prepared to wait 20 years for new therapies to get to the scale they need to be, when we’ve seen how quickly and successfully Covid-19 vaccines have been safely developed, tested and manufactured, when all parties collaborate?
It is digital technologies that bind everything together and in the case of the Covid-19 vaccines, they provided the power to help solve a profound societal challenge through the sharing of ideas, knowledge and solutions. Collaboration on this level drives efficiency and value for all.
At the round table event was Eric Keller from AstraZeneca (AZ). AZ’s use of digital technology is all-pervasive, and the company captures data and learnings on an ongoing basis. Its current use of predictive monitoring has led to greater consistency in production, reduced losses and gained a 100% record for regulatory quality assurance.
Moreover, it is the company’s openness to innovation and new technologies that’s striking. They “look for innovation everywhere” they work, from the people within their networks with different knowledge, through to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) for design, testing and training, to curious individual collaborators who just like to experiment.
This provides encouragement to Scotland’s SME community and to the growing talent pool within our life sciences sector. Indeed, it’s the declared intent of the MMIC to share its knowledge and learnings openly with SMEs.
The critical point however is how we get all companies to talk to each other, make connections and start to work in ways appropriate to resources and business models.
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Cross-over of digital expertise, manufacturing and life sciences is still relatively rare. At Accenture we are very specifically targeting graduates with an IT and scientific backgrounds and putting them together to understand both each other and the manufacturing process.
Dave Tudor of MMIC talks about creating the catalyst of small teams of experts or change agents and building the digital culture and structures around them so that the entire workforce understands the direction of travel.
As both Dave Tudor and Eric Keller acknowledge, it’s a team-based approach, a partnership of people with different skills both inside and outside an organisation, that builds innovation.
There is no doubt that companies and business leaders in the world of pharma and life sciences are developing an accelerated understanding of the value that comes from digital technologies to support business development and growth and it is gradually becoming part of a shared strategy.
A key change is the language used around the word ‘digital’ itself, linking it to operational excellence across the whole organisation and ROI.
Other industries also provide evidence that can be meaningfully applied to life sciences. The dynamic scheduling of the automotive industry to optimise capacity is one. The predictive process controls and data twinning that are used by the oil and gas sector, is another.
The very fact that MMIC is located within the new Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District in Renfrewshire is a deliberate choice to stimulate cross-industry discussions and learning.
The thread that pulls everything together is digital technology. The solutions to the timely, scale-up process from R&D through to clinical trials and into operations can be best served with digital technology drawing people into collaboration, firstly through shared data and learnings and then through a site-wide digitisation approach.