In the current Covid19 situation, Pharma companies are playing a significant role in producing life-saving drugs and other medical necessaries to control the pandemic. It is evident that there is no specific medicine or vaccination to treat the patients of Covid19 to date. But, the medical fraternity is trying to treat the symptoms and manage with combinations of different medicines. Tablets such as Hydroxychloroquine, Oseltamivir, Lopinavir, Ritonavir are being used in combinations along with simple medicines like paracetamol, cough syrups to help patients. Trial basis treatment would continue to be in effect until a proper medicine or vaccination is found effective. In some unfortunate cases, Covid19 patients are supported by ventilators in ICU. There is constant requirement for life-saving medicines, medical accessories, ICU equipment, sanitizers, etc. currently. Therefore, Pharma sector needs to function in full capacity under these circumstances too.
Functioning in full capacity in these testing times has been easier for companies who chose to digitalize their processes. Each production work is segregated into many different processes. Some of these processes can be effectively handled remotely through digitalization. It has helped in maintaining social distancing and also in managing production at the same time.
In its report, “Potential Impact of Covid-19 on the Indian Economy”, KPMG emphasizes on Pharma companies to experiment with digital channels. It states, “This presents a real and immediate opportunity to drive efficiencies through digital. At the same time, this crisis has highlighted the importance of investment in enabling technologies like cloud, data, and cyber security.”
Pharma companies involved in the production of aforesaid medicines, APIs, excipients, and other materials are required to work on full production scale to meet the constant demand. Nevertheless, with a few exceptions, most of the companies are facing the effects of the lockdown situation. Other reasons such as non-availability of raw materials, labour, etc. are also adding to their concern.
In some countries, stringent restrictions are not placed on Pharma sector and so employees at production plants are required to work in close proximities. They continue various processes under their personal supervision. It makes them more vulnerable to this situation. Pharma companies where manual processes are still being followed are at the crux of risk.
According to Gartner, “Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly now, and over the long term.” Gartner highlights the essentiality of various business sectors including Pharma to digitize.
A few Pharma companies are producing the required medicines and other essential materials conveniently because of digitalization of their processes. Companies dealing with APIs, excipients, formulations, equipment, etc. can use technological advancements and get accustomed to remote working. Though digitalization has been part of the wish list for many companies, it has now become the need of the hour.
Pharma companies which are effectively using applications for QA, QC, manufacturing and analytics are in the position to work efficiently from home. These applications digitalize and automate several processes that can be carried out online. Important works such as reviews and approvals can be carried out online conveniently. With considerable reduction in the number of employees required to be mandatorily present in the production sites and laboratories, the risk of potential spread is drastically brought down. Pharma companies should invest time and resources in finding relevant digital platforms that can bring down the adverse effects.
It would be interesting to learn that USFDA has given clearance to a few manufacturing companies in India in just 10 days. The main aspect that has to be noted here is that most of these manufacturing companies have digitalized their processes. This enabled the regulatory authorities to perform audits and provide clearances swiftly. Digitalization helped these manufacturing companies to start life-saving medicines production immediately in Covid19 situation.
Apart from aiding in audit clearance, digitalization brings many essential benefits to Pharma sector. Reduction in redundant and repetitive works, time taken, and effort of employees are some commonly reaped benefits. Digitalization increases the efficiency of the Pharma companies and makes the products cost-effective. It also aids in data integrity. These benefits make the whole process of digitalization and automation valuable.
Pharma companies should consider digitalizing their processes to tide over any type of crisis now and even in the future. This is a long-term investment with long lasting gains. Time is the right time for Pharma companies to move towards the digital world. A ‘new normal’ awaits.