The Future of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing – Linear or non-linear thinking?

Recently, I was reading an article in a prominent pharmaceutical trade magazine on the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Facility of the Future. While, this article made some goods points and it was unclear to me the time horizon that they were forecasting over, this article concerned me that we are using linear thinking instead of non-linear thinking. Linear thinking is the thought process where we believe that today is an improvement over yesterday, and tomorrow will be a slight improvement over today. It’s what engineers are trained to do. Basically, how can we improve X by 10% or 20%. However, non-linear thinking is the process of jumping from idea to idea until a significant  breakthrough is achieve. Non-linear thinking almost always requires looking at a problem from an entirely different perspective. In the words of Astro Teller – Caption of Moonshots for the Google Solve for <X> Project, “A different perspective is much more powerful than just being smarter.” For example, linear thinking might describe a problem as “How can we improve a car such that we get 50 miles per gallon of gasoline?” Non-linear thinking might describe a problem as “How can we get 500 miles out of 1 gallon of gasoline?” or even “Why do we need a car in the first place?” When you think this way, it requires an entirely different approach. It cannot just be an extrapolation of what we are currently doing today.

Using the above example of the pharmaceutical manufacturing facility of the future, linear thinking we might ask, “How can we improve flexibility, quality, potent compound safety, reduce costs, etc?” Non-linear thinking might ask the question, “Do we even need a manufacturing facility in the first place?” As an example, here’s a concept for a printer that produces drugs.

Is this a wild idea? Yes, but that’s the point, and innovation in this direction is already occurring. Novartis Pharmaceuticals has teamed with MIT to develop a continuous manufacturing process, and GSK already has deployed liquid dosing technology. Will there be challenges? Yes. Will there be naysayers? Of course. Will it require regulatory changes? Yep. But, one thing is for certain, don’t underestimate the power of innovation.

For example, when the human genome was first sequenced back in 2001, the cost was about one hundred million dollars, within two years that cost was cut in half, in less than a year it was halved again. Today, by the end of this year, the cost to sequence the human genome is expected to be close to $1,000 – now that’s a non-linear improvement!


About Dean Calhoun

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Dean is the President and CEO of Affygility Solutions. Affygility Solutions provides environmental, health and safety software, potent compound safety, industrial hygiene, containment validation services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industry. "Dean's Google+ Profile"

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