Digital revolution transforming drug development: West Pharma

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(piranka/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(piranka/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags West pharmaceutical services Digital digitalization Manufacturing Drug development

A leader from the drug development and manufacturing firm talks about the ways in which advanced digital tools stand to revolutionize the pharma field.

The pharmaceutical industry is rapidly transforming in a number of ways. The potential benefits of this digital evolution, occurring at numerous levels, include increased ability to meet climbing demand for drugs, elevated productivity, minimized waste, and getting much-needed drugs to patients at a more rapid pace.

Anoop Madhusudanan—vice president of digital and transformation, digital marketing, and digital platforms for West Pharmaceuticals—connected with Outsourcing-Pharma to talk about how advanced processes and technologies can help pharma firms achieve notable improvements in their operations.

OSP: Could you please talk a bit about the recent history of digital transformation of drug development—what kinds of new tools and practices were coming up in the months/years leading up to the pandemic?

AM: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are considered to be the core pillars of Industry 4.0. West has internalized these skills and started leveraging these technologies to improve resource optimization and enhance the customer experience.

The data science and AI team at West has been working on developing solutions related to container closure fit analysis, automated quality inspection, sales and demand planning, cyber-security, and digital marketing, with a collective goal to incorporate AI and ML across the organization to benefit our customers.

By generating data-driven insights and automating workloads that can be prone to human error, we can ensure the optimized utilization of available resources as well as proactively identify areas that need attention to significantly improve end users’ experiences. The DeltaCube Modeling Platform, a modeling platform we rolled out for helping our customers to model the container closure system fit, is a great example.

OSP: Then, how has the digital transformation of the industry changed since COVID-19 landed upon us—what changes accelerated when the pandemic hit, and how did professionals adjust to keep their pipelines moving?

AM: In the current COVID-19 pandemic, West plays a crucial role as a trusted partner to the majority of vaccine manufacturers. Vaccine developers have trusted West as a partner of choice to help protect their sensitive biomolecules. We have worked closely with customers in the selection, testing, and verification of compatible components including assisting with formal stability testing, and scenario planning for potential scale-up. 

Ahead of the pandemic, West had already started the digital transformation journey. West was:

  1. improving the manufacturing efficiencies through digitalization
  2. using data-driven analytics and predictive modeling to help our customers in their containment decision-making process
  3. accelerating the overall velocity of digitalization into every process within West leveraging consumer-grade experience and data-driven insights.

The ability of West to make this change in the middle of the pandemic speaks volumes to the digital capabilities the team is building internally. At West, it is all about the customer experience and ensuring that our customers have access to the best technology and experts, supporting their needs. Our new generation customer experience platforms like West 360 are already delivering West product information & related white papers in a seamless manner to our customers.

OSP: What pressures are drug manufacturers under, and how can streamlining the digital transformation process help?

AM: Drug manufacturers are always trying to deliver high-quality products at the lowest cost. Ensuring quality and sustainability is a challenging factor for most drug manufacturers. Digital tools can capture and store production data, making it accessible for analysis which can lead to reduced waste and higher throughput without compromising quality. It also means that some processes can go paperless, minimizing any room for errors.

And in the same way that we are seeing digital tools be a lifeline for teamwork within an organization, it is also a way for diverse teams to work together outside of an organization that will become increasingly important in a post-pandemic global environment.

OSP: Can you please talk about the regulatory landscape, and how pharma professionals can balance the need to keep in line with the ever-changing rules and meet the challenging market demands?

AM: When thinking about the regulatory aspects, the move from analog to digital is helping drug developers and manufacturers improve quality through automation. Through automation, we can run tests on product deployments that are exactly repeatable both increasing the efficiency and accuracy of the results. This is what we call “quality by design,” where the quality of a product is designed before manufacturing modeling risk and design.

Following this framework helps ensure that manufacturing problems are addressed through the scale-up from the lab to commercial-scale manufacturing and helps with the regulatory submission process.

OSP: How can AI and ML and other advanced tech tools help boost productivity and minimize waste in manufacturing?

AM: A data-driven AI and ML approach aims to unravel the underlying pattern within the data and come up with a computational model. To ensure that these proposed solutions can be moved to production at scale, there is a need for software development processes with a standard software development life cycle, so that there is a scalable and sustainable AI/ML industrial solution.

Digital transformation, powered by AI and ML, can help organizations make their processes more efficient and increase productivity. AI-led automation can simplify many traditional workloads and accelerate throughput in multiple verticals within the organization and considerably improve end users’ experiences.

OSP: Could you please share an overview on how West is putting digitization to work, to help optimize manufacturing and keep up with supply needs?

AM: Enabling predictive capabilities in our supply chain and manufacturing is one of our key focus areas. West Monitoring Network is a global IoT (Internet of Things) platform that we deployed, to drive OEE monitoring and optimal resource utilization.

We’ve more than 25 manufacturing sites already connected to this monitoring network. This platform enables top-down and bottom-up analysis, real-time alerts, predictive analytics, etc. for our manufacturing workflows. We are also rolling out a unique shop floor experience that works across kiosks and handheld devices in our manufacturing floors on top of our One ERP system. 

Beyond this, there are larger cross-functional initiatives in the organization that the Digital and Transformation team is supporting. The new Digital and Technology centers we established in Bengaluru, India, and Taipei, Taiwan will add to the global center of excellence for West’s Digital and Transformation (D&T) team, alongside teams based in Exton, Pennsylvania, and Eschweiler, Germany.

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