Automation in Pharma

Digital technologies are enhancing automation in the Pharma and Life Sciences industry. Krista White discusses computing and automation in Pharma with Larry Taber.

Krista: Thanks Larry for coming back in training us. Today, we are talking about automation in Pharma, which is such a key point in pharmaceuticals today. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about, I guess, give us a baseline on automation in Pharma?

Larry: Sure. Let me do this, you know what I’d like to do is kudos to Pharma. I want to think about, maybe, computing before I talk about automation.

Larry: Few people know it, but actually the very first supercomputer that was bought by a private company, or a private industry purchase was by Pharma. They bought a Cray supercomputer and they did that, so they could study the folding and shapes of molecules, so they could figure out how to target drugs for treatments and therapies, which I thought was pretty amazing, getting out on the edge of the curve. That was probably in the late ’80s, ’89 I think specifically. I happen to remember that.

Larry: The in-between years were probably more characterized by manufacturing execution systems for automation, MRP systems for materials and resource planning for scheduling and so forth, and HMRIs that were other kinds of ways to pull data out of machines that were processing running manufacturing lines and so forth. That was a period of focus for the late ’80s probably up through the mid 2000s.

Larry: Then after that, I think there’s been a lag, a lag in terms of application of digital technologies and automation for business processes. That’s probably the biggest gap, I think that exists. The processes are very complex that Pharma has to run, a lot of regulations, and so there are lots of opportunities for automation, but there is good news. The good news is this, the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers, and this is a group that stays on top of technologies, they just recently, in fact, it was March of this year, formed a special interest group that’s looking specifically at how they can use digital technologies and enhance the automation that’s used within the pharmaceutical industry to advance science. That’s where we’ve been and where we are.

Krista: You see the pharmaceuticals moving from being a lagger in the automation zone to being, potentially, a leader soon?

Larry: Exactly. Think back if you think back, again, to the Cray supercomputer example they were one of the first in doing that. I think they’re going to be a breakout industry because they’re going to be applying digital technologies to all facets of how they do their work, and I think they’ve got a eye to their business processes now that’s really going to be transformative in terms of how they’re adapting to the new medical and scientific innovations that are taking place.

Krista: Well, you know I love predictions, so thank you for joining us today, and thank you for telling us all about automation in pharmaceuticals.

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