The COVID-19 Transformation
The Life Sciences industry, which includes companies operating in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices and more, has undergone a transformation in the last three years unlike anything seen before. The COVID-19 pandemic touched almost every industry across the globe, but few felt the pressure to adapt more than the one attempting to develop and manufacture a life-saving vaccine for millions of people. The virus forced pharmaceutical companies to invest a massive amount of money into development and manufacturing processes and produce a vaccine at record speeds.
Now, with the COVID-19 vaccine readily available across the US and most of the world, there is an expectation for pharmaceutical manufacturers to sustain that level of speed and innovation with fewer resources. So how does a historically risk-averse industry change its processes for the long term and achieve the same outcome from the COVID-19 vaccine for all new therapies? Many companies believe the answer lies in the integration of people and advanced technology and tools.
The Old Way of Working
While the biopharmaceutical industry has developed innovative and novel medical treatments throughout the years – including the recent COVID-19 vaccine – manufacturers of pharma products have traditionally been slow to adopt the latest technological advances. The move to digitization and automation is happening quickly across many other industries, but the pharmaceutical world has been hesitant to change, mainly due to cybersecurity protocols and pharma regulatory standards.
Even companies that invested in ERP systems or business intelligence technology prior to 2020 generally shunned bringing new technology into the early stages of the drug production process, opting instead for the traditional method of sharing handwritten binders full of information between siloed internal teams. This would consistently lead to errors, breakdowns in communication and millions of dollars lost in drug batches due to quality deviations.
The Right Time for Change
Once COVID-19 arrived, it quickly became clear that assisted reality (aR) technology – a part of the larger extended reality (XR) world that includes augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR) – and remote collaboration tools were going to be vital for the rapid scale-up in manufacturing that was required. To strengthen the manufacturing process throughout the drug lifecycle, stay competitive in an increasingly crowded field and enable lasting change, many companies turned to assisted reality wearables as a part of their larger technology platforms.
RealWear customer Apprentice.io is one company leading the pharmaceutical industry toward technology transformation and helping manufacturers adopt the latest tools. Its employees have seen firsthand how transformative integrating aR technologies such as head-mounted devices (HMDs) can be for companies of all sizes and at all levels of the organization.
“We were seeing real interest in using assisted reality technology to help run batches pre-pandemic,” said Angelo Stracquatanio, CEO and co-founder of Apprentice.io. “COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of new technologies to an unprecedented rate. Many manufacturers have realized the potential of hands-free devices to produce faster and with greater accuracy. These leaders will continue to deliver superior results especially as the industry grapples with the transition to newer, more complex drug therapies.”
Let’s look at a few areas where the adoption of assisted reality wearables has had the largest impact:
Equipping a Modern Workforce
As with other industries such as manufacturing and hospitality, the Great Resignation brought a shortage of skilled labor to the pharmaceutical industry. The younger workforce entering the industry – often for the first time – is adept at using technology and accustomed to integrating it closely into their lives and work. They expect employers to provide modern tools and support to help them meet the everyday pressures that come with working in this kind of fast-paced environment. Offering assisted reality wearables helps companies attract and retain qualified talent in a limited labor pool, while helping employees do their jobs more accurately and efficiently.
Even if a company has enough qualified employees to complete the work, the research and development, pre-clinical, clinical and commercialization teams within that company are often very siloed. If the technology is not in place to accurately transfer knowledge between teams and across locations, the process can be extremely slow and painful. The use of wearables not only allows users to capture large amounts of data while working alone, but it also drives global collaboration with team members at any time.
Accurate Execution and Data Collection
It’s incredibly expensive and risky to develop new drugs. The current efforts to strengthen the manufacturing process are more important than ever as the therapies being developed increase in complexity.
The industry is currently shifting from legacy modalities such as small molecule drugs into advanced cell and gene therapies, such as the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. The process of manufacturing small molecule drugs is radically different than that of cell and gene therapies and many companies are realizing that legacy systems and processes are not working in this new personalized and fast-paced environment.
Business processes in the pharma industry need to be documented in a well-defined and structured format that is transparent and adheres to regulatory guidelines. RealWear’s Navigator™ 500 assisted reality wearable helps companies execute increasingly complex batch recipes by providing voice-navigated audio instructions and assisted reality overlays, keeping them completely hands-free. The RealWear Navigator 500 also captures live process and operational data while an employee works, empowering them to focus on the process instead of the manual collection of information that may or may not be accurate. In this way, attention can shift from a tedious and error-filled method to one where accurate and up-to-date data is shared, transferred, and made available for to stakeholders worldwide.
“Our Manufacturing Execution System works natively with the regulatory compliant RealWear Navigator 500 wearable headset. It empowers operators to bring instructions with them wherever they go in the suite, which is a game changer for batch execution,” said Stracquatanio. “It enhances those instructions with AR overlays for greater clarity and then automatically captures step completion, equipment readouts, and usage logging. When you can execute faster and with higher quality, you can get medicine to patients faster.”