Banner Default Image

Blog

How automation is shaping the future of the pharmaceutical industry

01 June 2022

By Jay Freeman

How automation is shaping the future of the pharmaceutical industry

The outlook for the pharmaceutical industry has been positive throughout the course of the pandemic and is expected to continue a positive trend into 2022 and beyond.

Research indicates that the global pharmaceutical industry will be worth $1.57 trillion by 2023, on the basis of factors such as an ageing population, emerging medical conditions and the emergence of new diseases.

Technology is also a key driver in the innovation of the pharmaceutical industry, particularly automation.

If drug development and manufacturing are rapidly increasing, alongside a need for increased digitisation and faster product runs, it naturally follows that automation will be part of the discussions relating to the future of pharma…

But is automation the future of the pharmaceutical industry?

Technology is at the forefront

Before discussing the role of automation in pharma, it’s important to acknowledge the significant impact that technology has had on the industry at large.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), for example, is being increasingly used to streamline drug discovery and development – it’s expected that around 28% of companies will be using AI in the next two years

Part of this shift is an attempt to reduce operational costs where possible and to increase productivity.

Alongside AI, blockchain technology has been another area that is receiving increased attention, as pharma companies look to optimise transaction processes and research and development (R&D).

Adherence to operating procedures has also been a long-suffering area in pharma, yet as digital processes have overtaken paper, there is greater operational efficiency and a standard operating procedure that can drive greater regulatory compliance. 

But is automation going to be part of this process of digitalisation in the future, and how is it being used in the industry?

Automated manufacturing

Manufacturing at scale and with efficiency has been something that many pharma businesses struggled with during the height of the pandemic.

As a result, there has been increased scrutiny on the manufacturing process and supply chain optimisation – consequently, the skills shortages and hiring difficulties facing many organisations have caused a shift towards automation.

This shift has meant that paper processes are now being replaced by big data, cloud software, and continuous manufacturing.

Preventative and predictive measures through the use of big data are being utilised on a wider scale by pharmaceutical companies, owing to the larger and more complex data sets that cannot be processed by traditional software as efficiently.

Though it may sound like a contradiction to say that automation can enhance collaboration in pharma – given the removal of the ‘human element’ – it can help to present data visualisations across an organisation quickly and easily.

Processes are unlikely to be entirely automated, however, the ability to reduce human error and perform repetitive tasks are benefits of automation that are extremely attractive to many pharmaceutical companies.

Analytics

There’s certainly no shortage of data available in the pharmaceutical industry, but exactly how much of this data is being leveraged by companies?

Automation offers the opportunity to use advanced data analytics that can improve anything from forecasting market trends to predictive drug recommendations, which can significantly improve processes and predictions in the long term.

This also coincides with a significant shift from data processing-related roles to data science roles in pharma and MedTech, for both safety and regulatory functions.

Whether data is being processed by AI, Machine Learning (ML), or NLP, the high volume of data is now being processed quickly and efficiently through automation.

It should be noted that automation, as it relates to analytics at this moment in time, is not intended to eliminate jobs, but instead, to enhance and enable them.

Quality compliance and supply chain logistics

Meeting the various guidelines and recommendations for public health safety can be time-consuming and costly.

Automated setups can assist with the scalability and risk management of compliance – weighing, blending and filling of liquids in Active Pharma Ingredients (API) can assist towards global standardisation.

Increasing the precision of new medicines through digital manufacturing has been a slow process, but one that could have a large impact.

Supply chain issues were rampant in the pandemic, and the automation of workflow management has meant that errors or potential weaknesses in logistics systems can be easily recognised and resolved.

The removal of human error offers the chance to have a cost-effective, flexible, and fast alternative for manufacturing processes. 

Moving forwards, it is likely that more businesses will begin to adopt some form of automated manufacturing, particularly for areas such as dispensing and kit assembly, to lower operating costs and increase efficiency.

Personalised medicine

Personalised medicine has been a hot topic in life sciences, as the pharmaceutical industry considers the potential of medicine based on patient medical history, genotype data, and biomedical research.

The rise of wearable tech has been another element increasing the awareness of personalised medicine, but where does automation come in?

Automated systems could take the large and complex data sets necessary for creating personalised medicine and analyse them efficiently and quickly.

Whilst cell and gene therapies traditionally require meticulous and time-consuming processes to be successful and compliant, technology can prove as the easier option when it comes to scaling operations.

Being able to monitor and track the process of personalised medicine, from manufacturing and clinical trials to administration, can be done through cloud-based software and remove human error from the process whilst remaining safe and compliant.

In conclusion

Discussions around automation in pharma may have initially been apprehensive, given the concerns around automation replacing job roles, yet the outlook is considerably more positive as we move through 2022.

As a way to enhance and streamline processes in a way that is low-cost and compatible with those working in pharma, automation could be the step that pharma needs to adapt.

New drug development and the strengthening of supply chain and manufacturing processes can be boosted by automation, but one thing remains clear – automation is merely one element in the evolution of pharma, and top talent is still highly necessary for any pharmaceutical company looking to innovate.

To find out more about the trends impacting the pharmaceutical industry and life sciences, or for expert advice on securing top talent for your life sciences company, get in touch with the Panda team today.


Share this article