Engineering Angles: Biopharma projects transform

Sept. 29, 2020
A gradual transition in project delivery has morphed into an acceleration as biopharma fights COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest single challenge facing society, with academia, the scientific community and private enterprise all doing what they can to help control the global spread. As part of this effort, the biopharma sector is responding to the urgent need to develop a vaccine and treatments to tackle a pandemic that has, to date, infected more than 27 million people across the world.

This mobilization by biopharma is not surprising; by its very nature, it is a resilient, innovative sector that has purpose at its core. That purpose has never been more pronounced as its key players bring all of their expertise and innovation to bear in the fight against COVID-19.

Pre-COVID, the biopharma sector was already grappling with a series of disruptors. The commercialization of novel cell and gene therapies requires a shift in thinking to address emerging operational and regulatory challenges. Adding to this is the need to address pricing issues and access for potentially transformative treatments as well as the ongoing, industry-wide battle for the best talent. These factors were combining to make investment decisions more challenging. They also put the efficient use of capital and shorter delivery times under increasing scrutiny.

Now, as biopharma companies around the world work at pace to bring life-saving products to market, solutions providers for biopharma facilities are delivering COVID-related projects within schedules that would have been deemed unthinkable a few years ago.

A leaner approach

Even before the pandemic, the manner in which biopharma projects were delivered was being transformed with solution providers developing leaner, and more integrated and innovative solutions to address increasingly complex needs.

One such approach is integrated project delivery (IPD). The IPD approach blurs the lines of traditional project delivery and ensures that the best person or company is assigned to each task, resulting in an optimized, leaner solution. IPD also ensures that projects are delivered in a way that gives the best value to the client in terms of optimal safety, quality, cost and schedule.

What had been a gradual transition in the approach to project delivery has morphed into an acceleration as the biopharma industry — like many other related industries — steps up in the fight against COVID-19. 

Solution providers are deploying the most effective and impactful elements of IPD to support the urgent need for the biopharma sector to deliver vaccines and treatments on a global scale — in record time and to the highest quality standards.

For biopharmas, this shift is being driven by the need for rapid retrofits to enhance the flexibility of existing facilities. The goal is for these retrofits to be made operational in one-quarter of the time that a conventional new build can be safely delivered, with the aim of fast-tracking production of COVID-19 therapies, vaccines and testing.

The reality is that the coronavirus has fast-tracked some of the dominant and most impactful traits of IPD, including a relentless focus on safety and quality; flexible capacity; deeper collaboration with project partners; and an agile approach to overcoming evolving challenges.

The pandemic has introduced unique challenges in ways of working, and as such, existing initiatives that put on-site safety at the heart of workplace culture and technologies that help to maintain physical distancing have become more relevant.

The response to the coronavirus has also led to deeper collaboration among project partners. This is an area where IPD comes into its own. Using this approach, the focus shifts from a task-focused environment to one where people come together to collaborate to deliver the project.

IPD ensures all partners have an equal opportunity to bring value. Deeper collaboration allows unique skills to come to the fore and allows companies to move from solving complicated problems to quickly delivering solutions, while maintaining the highest quality and integrity of the manufacturing process.

Through COVID and beyond, new challenges are emerging which require that project delivery teams remain agile and innovative. A team’s ability to think outside the box is what will continue to unlock new possibilities for biopharmas and indeed, across all industries.

While there are challenges ahead, the potential to reimagine tomorrow resonates now more than ever. And the progress being made in project delivery will live on, reaping benefits for long into the future. 

About the Author

John Noble | VP Life Sciences