The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented attention to the speed at which drugs are developed, tested, manufactured, and distributed. The need for vaccines and effective treatments for Sars-CoV-2 has meant that the pharmaceutical industry has had to move faster than ever before—and it has. Central to this success has been the industry’s adoption of digital technologies, also known as life sciences manufacturing 4.0.
Manufacturing 4.0 has transformed pharmaceutical manufacturing. Using digital technologies—cloud storage, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), and blockchain, to name a few—companies can collect, analyse, and store huge amounts of data, thus making drug development and manufacturing more efficient. Digitalization also allows improved pharmacovigilance, predictive drug processing, and even virtual clinical trials.
Optimizing drug development and delivery
Digitalization is revolutionizing the way—and the speed at which—drugs are made and has become essential for companies seekingto commercialize medicines as fast and as safely as possible. The urgency of the pandemic has meant less reliance on traditional methods of conducting R&D and manufacturing. Supply chains, including the cold chain needed for some COVID vaccines, need to be more agile, a quality supported by the digital technologies of manufacturing 4.0.
The new reality of working from home has led to the creation of remote systems support at every level of the manufacturing process, made possible by information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) advances. At the same time, global cooperation between companies and among divisions of individual companies racing to develop vaccines has accelerated the move away from labour-intensive paper-based batch records. Electronic record-keeping and data sharing allow many processes to be undertaken remotely.
Manufacturing 4.0 is speeding up the progression from R&D, through clinical trials, and on to scaled-up commercial manufacturing in ways that reduce costs and improve the functioning of global supply chains. It relies on big data and analytics that can be used by such technologies as AI and robotics to provide support for real-time decision making throughout the manufacturing process.
Security is key to Manufacturing 4.0
With digitalization comes the ever-present threat of data security breaches. The integration of IT and OT systems has made cybersecurity more important than ever, and companies have implemented asset discovery and network segmentation programs to protect their OT networks. This trend will likely expand this year with the addition of threat analysis and vulnerability management to the OT networks at many companies. Patch management and antivirus capabilities in OT networks are allowing analyses of incident response, standard operating procedures, and disaster recovery policies.
An investment in the future—and the future is now
Digital technologies are allowing the integrated manufacturing systems, supply chain optimization, and access to high-quality information that mean businesses can make the decisions that will allow them to meet the healthcare challenges of today and tomorrow.
Joe Haugh, CEO at Zenith Technologies, a Cognizant Company