Monday, 1 December 2014

Pharmig 2014 - conference report


This week some of Europe's leading microbiologists gathered in Nottingham (U.K.) for the Pharmaceutical Microbiology Interest Group (Pharmig) annual conference. One of the key themes was keeping medicines safe from harmful microorganisms.

Pharmig is a non-profit making professional organisation that represents the interests of individuals who work in, have responsibility for, or work alongside microbiology within the pharmaceutical, healthcare, cosmetics and healthcare sectors. Each year Pharmig hosts the only U.K. and Irish conference for microbiology professionals working across these sectors, and the conference attracts scientists from around the world.
These years conference was held in Nottingham, the city famous for the legend of Robin Hood and the tales of Sherwood Forest. The conference was chaired by David Keen (GlaxoSmithKiline).
The first speaker was Dr. Tim Sandle, who presented on the human microbiome and the Human Microbiome Project. Dr. Sandle explained the significance of these cutting-edge science topics for the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors. The Human Microbiome Project was a U.S. National Institutes of Health initiative that set the goal of identifying and characterizing the microorganisms which are found in association with both healthy and diseased humans (the human microbiome). One aspect that Dr. Sandle focused on was the ecology of the human skin, which he explained as being composed of a series of niches. Knowing far more about the human microbiome, Dr. Sandle argued, means that companies involved in producing medicines must focus on how well their staff gown (in relation to wearing clean clothing) and consider more fully how disinfectants - necessary for keeping clean areas under control - are qualified. "Are we", he asked, "using the right types of microorganisms, particularly those known to inhabit the richest areas of the skin microbiome, to show that our disinfectants are fit-for-purpose?"
This presentation was followed by a commercial pitch about keeping microbial cultures pure. The next main presentation was from Patrick Nieuwenhuizen, from Genzyme Ireland. Patrick considered how well operators who are tasked with the manufacture of medicines are trained. Patrick came up with some imaginative strategies for instilling good training, which included the use of video recordings. Patrick also demonstrated how poor behaviors can lead to potential contamination of medicines.
mystery tunnel  a picture I took using green light effects at my wokplace cleanroom
Following this the meeting proceeded to open discussion sessions. Here delegates opted for different specialist subjects. These subjects included cleanrooms (the environments within which pharmaceutical products are made); bacterial endotoxins (a fever inducing bacterial by-product which is of particular concern with medicines administered intravenously); using a broader range of microorganisms to show that the culture media used to assess environments is suitable; and an experts' corner.
The next main presentation was delivered by Elaine Doyle (Abbott Laboratories). Elaine provided an approach for auditing and self-inspection, so that the pharmaceutical industry can ensure that its practices and contamination control strategies are suitable.
Leading on from this, Alan Whipple (GlaxoSmithKline) discussed when knowing the species of a potentially contaminating microorganism is important, and he provided some useful advice on a microbial identification strategy. The final presentation of the first day was from Mary Anne-Weatherhead (Pfizer). Mary-Anne argued that more microbiologists should take on senior quality roles in organizations, especially because the microbiological knowledge is key for product safety and efficacy.
A technician undertaking a test in Tim Sandle s laboratory

On the second day of the conference, Kevin Wright, who is a scientist based at , Procter & Gamble, looked at the importance of controlling microbial populations (bioburden) early on in the pharmaceutical production process. Such attention, Kevin stated, leads to safer medicines.
The second topic was carrying out effective investigations when contamination events occur. This was led by Joanne Spiers, from the company Catalent Pharma Solutions. Joanne provided delegates with a series of problem solving tools that can aid efficient investigations.
The next session was introduced by Dr. Samantha Westgate of the company Perfectus Biomed. Dr. Westgate looked at the contamination of water systems though types of microbial communities called biofilms. Here it was explained that bacterial adhesion is a consequence of the balance of attractive and repulsive physicochemical interactions between bacteria and surfaces. This phenomenon can lead to water systems, if they are not properly controlled, from coming contaminated. Once they have taken foot, biofilms are very difficult to remove.
Laboratory technician at work

The penultimate session was delivered by Dr. Mark Sutton, from Public Health Englanbd. This centered on faster and more effective ways of ensuring that sterilization process, especially those that rely on gases like hydrogen peroxide, can be assessed more rapidly and effectively. The final session took the form of an entertaining lecture from Professor Val Edwards-Jones (Clinical Director at MelBec Microbiology). Professor Edwards-Jones noted that there is huge concern in the microbiology community about the increasing numbers of multi-antibiotic resistant bacteria in the health care environment. She noted that infections associated with these organisms have a higher fatality for those persons undergoing complicated medical treatment. In light of this, the Professor asked "Should we be worried?" Indeed there is evidence that these organisms have now spread into the general community and microbiologists have isolated some common everyday objects, including household pets. Noting the seriousness, Professor Edwards-Jones explored the relevance of these problems to the general public and how prevention of some common infectious diseases can be achieved by following good hygienic practices.
The Pharmig conference closed on a high note, with the delegates informed on a range of important topics that can each add to the process of making pharmaceutical products safer. 

Posted by Tim Sandle