COVID-19 and cell and gene sector help to kickstart Pharma 4.0

COVID-19 and the growth of the cell and gene therapy sector have pushed the pharma industry to use new and emerging technologies to solve manufacturing challenges.   

Speaking at the recent BPI West virtual conference, co-founder and CEO of Apprentice Angelo Stracquatanio said the coronavirus pandemic has forced companies across the pharma industry to adapt and operate differently, particularly altering how and what technologies it opts to use. 

With business “grossly disrupted,” he argued “the industry started to turn to new and emerging technologies to solve a lot of these key challenges that came up in the last year.”

Co-founder and CEO of Apprentice, Angelo Stracquatanio, speaking at BPI West

These included principles that biopharma had previously been slow to integrate into their everyday processes, specifically Pharma 4.0 – defined by Stracquatanio as “the intersection to connect your people, to your process, to your physical environment” – and new and emerging technologies. 

As an example, he cited his firm’s Tandem technology platform, which provides hands-free collaboration and the ability to troubleshoot manufacturing issues from anywhere. In a world where travel had come to a standstill, such digital tech proved to be an innovative workaround for firms to manage their global manufacturing networks. 

Describing the platform as “like Google Maps for pharma,” he said the ability to guide teams through their processes at a distance proved invaluable during COVID “because the number of people that were constricted and allowed in these facilities were really constrained and controlled in the last year.” 

For Apprentice and firms like his, business growth was a silver lining to the global pandemic. As an example, Stracquatanio said for one customer the Tandem tech is now in 70 global sites, compared to only being deployed in 10 sites pre-pandemic. 

Cell and gene therapy growth 

But the adoption of such technologies cannot just be attributed to COVID-19. Regardless of the pandemic, the expansion of the cell and gene therapy space has also driven the adoption of various emerging technologies, Stracquatanio argued. 

Last year, nearly $20 billion of investment flowed into cell and gene therapy focused companies. Stracquatanio told BPI West attendees the funding has enabled the companies to come to market and they are “requiring and demanding new systems in order for them to deliver on the promises that they need in order to bring these drugs to market.” 

“In the last six months, we’ve seen almost 20% of our customer base shift dramatically towards selling gene therapy.” 

Thus while COVID-19 may have forced the floodgates of Pharma 4.0 to open, post-pandemic “we’re not going back,” Stracquatanio told delegates. The adoption of digital and innovative tech “is here to stay,” he said, adding “all those principles will now be applied to the new therapies coming to market coming out of COVID.”

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