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Future of Healthcare Q1 2023

How digitalisation can benefit the biopharma manufacturing industry

iStock / Getty Images Plus / ipopba

Mohamed Noor

Digitalisation Manager, NIBRT

With the world becoming highly digitalised, we must close the enlarging gap between the younger workforce used to a smartphone-based lifestyle and a paper-based work environment in biopharma manufacturing.

The ability to retain the existing workforce while minimising headcounts is critical as talent becomes scarcer and new products are launched. Although considered more flexible, paper records limit the growth of organisations. More employees are also working remotely and manufacturing operations are becoming more globalised, which means slower access to data stored on paper.

On the other hand, the deployment of monolithic electronic manufacturing software creates bottlenecks in updates and feature enhancements. To compromise, paper on glass may help with an organisational transformation into digitalised manufacturing in a non-disruptive way.

Becoming data-centric in biopharma

Irrespective of whether an organisation adopts fully automated or paper-on-glass solutions, the availability of live data has immense value. Deviations in a process from established limits may be brought back into trend instantaneously if the process is well-understood.

Two keys to gaining sufficient process knowledge are (1) the availability of multi-skilled scientists and (2) small-scale, inexpensive experimental data. Data scientists should be exposed to the intricacies of biologics manufacturing while simultaneously promoting citizen analytics to process scientists. This way, process and data scientists can communicate with each other using a common language.

With extended reality, the execution of each step can be monitored while maintaining employee privacy.

Extended reality in biopharma manufacturing

Data analytics play a central role in allowing an organisation to appraise new technologies, especially those from other industries. An exciting example is the use of extended reality for process execution and staff training — technology that a younger workforce would have experienced in gaming or even retail purchases.

In a traditional paper-based environment, it is difficult to quantify if new staff members are struggling with certain steps in manufacturing standard operating procedures (SOPs). With extended reality, the execution of each step can be monitored while maintaining employee privacy. Specific enhancements, including the addition of videos at specific steps, can then be considered as required to increase return on investment.

Making room for more advanced talent

From adaptive clinical trials to digital transformation, plus emerging and re-emerging diseases to reimbursement by healthcare payors, there is a wave of opportunities and challenges facing biopharma organisations. Organisations will have to continue to maximise efficiency and ensure shareholder expectations for consistent financial growth. From a manufacturing perspective, a more concentrated effort in minimising labour requirements for automatable processes will free up talent for roles that require critical and creative thinking.

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