Facilty Design & Management

Puzzle People

How do you solve the pharmaceutical manufacturing puzzle? Simple, find better-fitting pieces

By Steven E. Kuehn, Editor in Chief

I love a good puzzle, don't you? It's all about how the pieces fit together, and in the end combine to create the "solution," whether it is a beautiful photo of Neuschwanstein Castle in winter or Elvis on black velvet (texters insert LOL here). Everyone knows, however, that puzzle designers purposely make puzzles hard to "solve," choosing photos and images with a density of detail — totally obscuring its position relative to the image — so that only its shape is relevant. The dirty little secret is puzzle people prefer it that way.

Puzzle people were out in force at INTERPHEX, offering their take on supplying pieces to solve the pharmaceutical puzzle — that is how to make increasingly complex molecules quickly, reliably, cost efficiently, and anywhere necessary to meet society's demand for safe, effective and affordable medications. Of all the puzzle people exhibiting their individual and systemized pieces of the solution, Pfizer and its collaborators GEA and G-CON decided to put theirs together to create a piece with the potential to provide a near universal fit to Pharma's ever-complex and dense puzzle. Awarded a 2015 INTERPHEX Exhibitor Award for Best Technology Innovation, the Portable, Continuous, Miniature and Modular (PCMM) is the consortium's solution to the many issues Pfizer faces as it works to put the pieces together in an effort to solve its own corner of the pharmaceutical manufacturing efficiency puzzle.

Fortunately, dear readers, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing is covering this advance completely in this month's Plant Tour feature, and the INTERPHEX award it received on page 10 in the UpFront section. To get the story, I spoke to Phil Nixon, Pfizer's chief spokesman for the PCMM collaboration who showed me around (virtually and enthusiastically) the PCMM concept while explaining its development genesis and its journey to commercial reality at Pfizer's Groton, Connecticut, R&D facility.

As the conversation continued, it was obvious Pfizer's Nixon was both proud and excited to explain the PCMM's technical and design merits, its flexibility, portability and economic viability, and ultimately Pfizer's primary role in bringing the concept to reality and its decision to share it for the benefit of the entire pharmaceutical industry. The technologies deployed by the PCMM have been in development for years and the concepts tested more or less in commercial environments by various Pharma companies. But the concept to integrate everything within a G-CON POD was championed by Pfizer and, of course, supported by GEA and G-CON, as well as numerous automation and control technology suppliers.

Nixon offers insight into Pfizer's motivation: "We are trying to get other pharmaceutical companies involved because we want this to be an industry standard. This isn't a proprietary Pfizer thing," says Nixon, "and we want everybody to use it."

Pfizer won't be selling it either. "We have two vendors, and that's their business," says Nixon. "They're benefiting from the collaboration, the design improvements, etc. But at the end of the day, that's their business model. Pfizer gets a better option to use, and frankly, we learn a lot by being in on the front end of this."

Since my time in the industry, I've come to recognize Pfizer's relatively aggressive pursuit of operational excellence evidenced by its global initiatives aimed at increasing the efficiency of its global manufacturing assets and its supply chain partners. Nixon offers this, perhaps adding a bit more veracity to my last statement: "We got funding to do this type of project because the leaders saw that it had potential," says Nixon. "You only get so many chances to transform the industry, and I think Pfizer's leaders saw that ‘wow, this is really something different, something that's going help.'"

For puzzle people like Nixon, I'm betting the transformative "piece" he and his organization have spearheaded, as well as all the contributors to the PCMM concept, are quite satisfied with their work, but not ready to rest on their laurels. After all, there are plenty more puzzles in Pharma to solve.