Tuesday, 19 November 2019

What Technologies Will Have the Biggest Impact on Pharma?

Medical science has come a long way since the days of leeches and trepanning, but new technologies are emerging every day that will change the way we look at pharmaceutical science. Here are the ones that will have the most significant impact on pharma, once the industry learns to adopt them.

A guest post by Megan Ray Nichols

Machine Learning and Analytics

Machine learning, or programming computers to learn and grow from the information they're given, is a stepping stone between the digital networks we use today and true artificial intelligence. This technology may still be in its infancy, but its applications in the industry are growing by the day. One potential use in the pharmaceutical industry is in drug discovery and manufacturing.

Drug discovery is typically slow and expensive. Pharmaceutical researchers start by selecting a target and analyzing millions of compounds before they might discover one that proves to be a viable potential treatment. Half a dozen steps later, it might make it to clinical trials, and then after a decade of additional testing, it could be made available to consumers.

Machine learning programs can consolidate many of these steps, from target selection through pre-clinical stages. While it will never replace the need for clinical trials, it could reduce time and money spent on drug discovery while still producing new viable medications. According to industry experts, these applications could save the health care sector $150 billion a year by 2026.

IoT and Networked Sensors

The Internet of Things (IoT) is showing up in nearly every industry. If you've got any smart devices in your home, from an Amazon Echo to a smart garage door opener, you're already part of it. This technology could become an invaluable part of the pharmaceutical industry once adopted by existing companies.

These sensors are capable of sending and receiving information, can be networked to a central hub, and may be programmed to do nearly anything. In the pharmaceutical sector, IoT sensors are becoming popular for real-time equipment monitoring, environmental monitoring and control in manufacturing plants. They also watch the supply chain once medications leave the factory en route to pharmacies and hospitals around the country.

IoT requires additional equipment and IT professionals to install it and keep it running. Once adopted, it could address many of the problems — such as a lack of transparency — that the pharmaceutical industry is currently facing.

Automation and Robotics

Automation isn't a new concept in manufacturing, but many pharmaceutical companies are starting to turn to autonomous practices to create medications and medical technology. It's already used in the filling, packing and inspection in more than one-third of pharmaceutical factories.

More recently, companies have started incorporating a process known as Raman Spectroscopy to analyze drugs before they're shipped. Ramen spectroscopy uses single-frequency lasers to examine the vibrational frequency of the molecular bonds in the medications. The drugs are tested by the computer to determine whether they're safe to ship.

Automation is also making an appearance in lab settings. The ACAPELLA-1K is a DNA prep system that uses automation and highly specialized fluid processing systems to prepare 1,000 samples of DNA for sequencing in less than eight hours. The ACAPELLA system can aspirate, dispense, mix, transport, and heat or cool the fluids as necessary to get them ready for sequencing, all with the press of a button. 

3D Printing

3D printing started as a toy for hobbyists and CAD designers to turn their designs into reality, but it's started to make an appearance in nearly every industry. There's even a 3D printer on the International Space Station. Millions of people use pills and capsules every single day — and many of them are difficult to swallow or taste terrible. 3D printing might be the solution to these problems. Instead of using the same size and shape of a pill for everyone, 3D printing would enable pharmaceutical companies to customize their medications for the needs of each patient.

The first 3D printed drug to receive FDA approval was Spritam, a medication from Aprecia Pharmaceuticals used to treat epilepsy in 2016. It created new technology to build each pill, one layer at a time, to make a dissolvable pill that's easier to swallow. While 3D printing isn't more efficient than traditional pill-making methods, it can help make taking your medicine easier and less uncomfortable. 

Looking Forward

Medical technology is changing the way we do everything from how we manufacture pills to how we discover new drugs and treatments. These technological advances will alter the very foundation of the pharmaceutical industry, once current pharma companies adopt them. It might not be too long before you take a pill that was discovered and designed by a machine learning program and created by a 3D printer before being delivered to your door.

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