External Manufacturing – The Future of the Pharmaceutical Industry?

Social Media in the Pharmaceutical Sector

Over the past number of years there has been an undeniable change within the pharmaceutical sector due to the much debated and discussed “patent cliff”.  For some big Pharma brands, the lack of a significant R&D pipeline has been compounded by a lack of a lean manufacturing mind-set, which has resulted in expensive and uncompetitive manufacturing costs. But now it seems that the tide is turning. For Pharma companies to develop a strong pipeline takes years of research and development, often having to identify and partner with research organisations that are in the late stages of clinical trials with the next “blockbuster” drug, which is similarly expensive. Hence, when pharma companies do achieve a robust pipeline, they will be looking to maximise profits and operational performance. Virtual manufacturing models such as Shire, Forest and Provectus provide the answer as to how this can be achieved.

The challenge from a recruitment perspective when organisations decide to take the above path, is finding those who have the experience in an external manufacturing environment. Many of the big pharmaceutical corporations have predominantly manufactured their own proprietary products in-house, so the abundance of above site, commercial skills aren’t always available. Furthermore, developing relationships with and managing external resources such as CMO’s (contract manufacturing organisations) tends to require a lot of travel, which is often a barrier for candidates looking to maintain a normal work/life balance.

An answer to this may lie in having to look further afield. Attracting talent from various geographical locations where virtual manufacturing has a longer history. Markets such as Switzerland or the UK are a good starting point. Certain advantages would accrue here, such as adding multilingual employees, improving and expanding the company’s cultural diversity. However, there is also the risk of adding a transient element to the workforce in Ireland, which could lead to increased turnover, as foreign employees decide to return to their homeland after brief working stints. If organisations are to have a long-term future in external manufacturing in Ireland, as it seems they intend to, then developing the skills of the already highly educated, indigenous workforce to incorporate elements of external manufacturing management practice is an imperative. The first change needs to happen in our universities and regional colleges. An emphasis must be placed on educating those in technical fields about the changing national landscape in relation to Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology external manufacturing.

So where does that leave us in the short term? Currently organisations are engaged in moving those from internal technical transfer and site based roles straight into the far more commercially orientated world of external manufacturing with mixed results. It’s a time consuming process trying to both recruit the required technical skill sets and then train them around the commercial challenges and intricacies of External Manufacturing management. However, time is not in abundance for businesses such as BMS and Novartis as their R&D future pipelines get closer to realisation.

If the growth of external manufacturing business units in recent times continues, this might be the future of the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland, however its level of success in the short term will depend on our ability to adapt and change with this new environment. It’s already well under way and thus far, the sector has done exceptionally well in identifying internal pools of talent with experience in virtual manufacturing management. However, the challenge for these businesses still lies ahead, as more and more of the traditional Pharmaceutical manufacturing in Ireland is moved to an external manufacturing model. As this change occurs, our workforce will need to adapt to survive in this new, global market place.

Can big Pharma in Ireland develop their workforce to keep pace with the growth of their external manufacturing (CMO) base? – Only time will tell.

I’m looking to speak with Continuous Improvement and Operational Excellence experts within the pharma sector. Please feel free to contact me personally by any of the means below or by email.

About the Author: David Phelan is Engineering and Supply Chain consultant at Life Science Recruitment.

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