How much do you think that the supply chain, the way that we manufacture medicines, how we package medicines, how we deliver them, needs to change?
Perhaps the best answer to that question comes from what I found during my first initial forays into the pharmaceutical sector, probably seven or eight years ago. I started to look at the speed that the supply chains operate and inventory that is held by pharmaceutical companies. I was initially convinced that I had got my calculations wrong! I was staggered to find inventory typically a couple of years, and often more significantly than that. I was used to an industry where two or three weeks was the norm not two or three years.
Then, in terms of waste and in terms of getting our products right first time, I was also somewhat surprised to find wastage levels of up to 5% in production processing compared to industries where this has been brought down to a fraction of a percent or, in electronics, parts per million. So, right-first-time quality was a big issue.
Pharmaceutical supply chains are very sluggish with lots of inventory sitting doing nothing. Increasingly, they are not fit for purpose considering that future medicines are likely to demand more variety and to be able to service niche patient populations. The challenges of inventory and speed are only going to become significantly greater and the current levels of inventory and the current speed to market increasingly unsustainable.
Given the size of the task what do you hope that REMEDIES will be able to achieve in what is in some respects quite a short timeframe?
The ambition of REMEDIES is to demonstrate that, by using new technologies, we can increase the agility of the pharmaceutical supply chain. It is a flow-through model which is very much based on the transformation from batch to continuous manufacturing, but certainly not limited to just that technology or set of technologies.
We are looking at new technologies that offer a new scale of production aligned with the demand profile and supply responsiveness required for that particular product. In REMEDIES, we hope to demonstrate that we can change that manufacturing paradigm.
Going beyond the production processes, smart packaging and different ways of getting the product to the patient also could go through a radical transformation. And only by attacking all elements – alternative production processes, new ways of pack format and presentation, different forms of distribution and perhaps also different care pathways enabled by digital technologies – can we radically change the current manufacturing and supply chain model.
REMEDIES hopes to demonstrate that these technologies are ready for adoption.
What do you think is the power of collaboration in this as yours is a very wide group of players centred on the Institute for Manufacturing?
What is becoming increasingly clear is that these opportunities cannot be embraced by one or two companies taking this forward independently. So, REMEDIES promises to develop a new platform, a new platform of technologies and a new platform in terms of collaboration.
Many of the firms have experimented with some of the technologies we are talking about in REMEDIES but have not had the scale and the expertise that the REMEDIES consortium offers to take things forward.
Importantly, the consortium also provides a platform for engagement with the regulators and other institutional bodies so that, when you have a radical change in the operating model through new technologies and digitalisation that Industry 4.0 promises, then we need to take a much larger group of stakeholders with us and REMEDIES is an excellent vehicle for doing just that.
Are there successes that you can point to so far?
Already in REMEDIES we are seeing engagement across the stakeholders. So, is the platform active and alive? I would say definitely so.
We are having meetings with the UK regulator, the MHRA, providing a platform for having an initial discussion on the new technologies and the adoption challenges.
We are seeing equipment being developed for prototype. And we are seeing equipment now being proven and ready for sale and export. If you take the App C workstream on supercritical fluids, we have an example of a project where the scale-up operation would have been in south-east Asia but is now going to be in Nottingham.
So, on the production processes side we are seeing that the manufacturing demonstrators that we were seeking in terms of prototype, initial production and initial adoption, are very much taking place.
If we look at some of the packaging applications, we have now got demonstrators in trial looking at smart packaging and being able to capture the provenance of a product and ensure that temperature and humidity controls have been maintained for that product and that the product is authentic.
Moving to the commercial supply chain project, which I lead, we are seeing new capabilities in design, supply chains and how digitalisation can support major strides in productivity and potentially in the operating model. The ability to integrate new chemistry with novel production processes, smart packs, lean distribution models and patient data – using mobile-phone Apps and diagnostics – offers a more ‘end-to-end’ view of a sector that is traditionally a rather fragmented network of isolated centres of expertise.
Finally, in the clinical supply chain we have a proof of concept in terms of a ‘packaging to order’ model which promises to save tens of millions of pounds in avoided waste, and also in terms of speed to market. This facility should give the UK an edge on taking clinical trials forward quicker than the competition.
You have these achievements already, what about the immediate and longer term future?
In the immediate year ahead we want to take a lot of the projects that are nearing maturity to final completion and clearly there’s a lot of operational activity that is going to be taking place.
We are already making initial forays into examining what comes after this initial REMEDIES programme comes to an end. As the UK Government takes forward its industrial strategy, there have been recent announcements of major potential investments that might be made through the challenge fund to support industrial strategy development.
What we have in REMEDIES is an ideal platform spanning industry and academia, to take technology and supply chain projects forward up through the different technology readiness levels and manufacturing readiness levels. We can strengthen the UK supply chain and ensure that the UK does indeed become attractive for people to invest in doing their manufacturing, processing and packaging in the UK.