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While technology promises advances for healthcare, a skilled workforce is needed to deliver on the potential.
Trade shows are a good opportunity to assess where an industry stands on new technologies, ongoing challenges, and future opportunities. It also is a good time to assess general attitudes about prospects for the road ahead. As I write this, I am half way through three consecutive weeks of industry events, each with a unique market focus, revealing the potential of biopharma to make a difference in the lives of patients and the work that must be done to achieve that goal.
Continuous manufacturing, which has gained momentum for small-molecule drugs with FDA approval of several therapies, was a popular discussion topic at INTERPHEX in New York, NY in mid-April. The strong interest is an indication that the pharma industry may be looking to consider advanced technologies that are common in other industries. In the biologics arena, the move to continuous manufacturing will be more difficult; experts on a panel hosted by BioPharm International magazine noted that while some segments of a bioprocess may have continuous operations, an end-to-end continuous process will be difficult to achieve.
At CPhI North America in Philadelphia, PA, medical futurist Bertalan Mesko shared his vision of bringing science fiction to medical reality through the use of digital technologies and data management and identified actions that must be taken today to get the most out of future technologies. Smartphone-based monitoring, 3D printing of medications, drone delivery of medications to remote regions, use of blockchain for data security of drug products, and Internet-based monitoring of patient medical conditions in their homes are a few advances he identified.
A first step to digital medicine was made when FDA approved the first digital medicine system, a drug-device combination product comprised of Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s oral aripiprazole tablets embedded with an ingestible event marker (IEM) sensor from Proteus Digital Health.
Mesko, however, noted how the lack of doctors, lack of money, and lack of patient trust in medicine can hinder the acceptance of innovation for medical applications. New digital technologies will generate vast amounts of data that must be managed by artificial intelligence; some people fear the power of artificial intelligence, a hurdle that must be overcome, he said.
The cost of new technologies may be high, creating a divide between those that can afford it and those that cannot, Mesko warned, and including the patient in the design of the medical advances-by asking them what they want-is crucial.
Mesko also noted that technology is only part of the solution; people are needed to implement this vision. The lack of a trained, qualified workforce to operate bioprocessing facilities spurred a partnership between Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University and the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) of Dublin, Ireland to establish the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing, the first education and training institute for biopharmaceutical processing in North America. The partnership was announced in February 2018; further details were provided by Mary Lynne Bercik, founder and CEO, GenZinnovation, and Ronald G. Kander, Dean, Kanbar College of Design, Engineering & Commerce Associate Provost for Applied Research at Jefferson.
When operational in 2019, the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing is expected to serve 2500 people annually, including an academic program for bioprocessing engineering, from undergraduate through doctorate levels, industry training with the pharmaceutical companies, workforce training through community college partnerships, and bioprocessing certifications through regional university partnerships.
Vol. 31, No. 5
When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, " Key Ingredients to Healthcare’s Future," BioPharm International 31 (5) 2018.