A few months ago I came across a really interesting, albeit short, article on an initiative being undertaken by Swiss university hospitals. The basic idea is that they want to develop competence and capabilities in the burgeoning field of cell therapy for cancer treatment. The reason is simple, bring down the cost of treatments for their patients. According to the article, the approach is to bring the manufacturing of the treatments in-house instead of outsourcing to commercial pharma who in turn typically have to ship material abroad (Germany or the US) for processing before that material is then returned and used for the treatment of the patient.
Apply the analogy to some things we may do around the house. What if we shipped out our clothes to be cleaned every time? We certainly already do this now with nice dresses and suits. And some professionals send all of their business attire out to be dry cleaned due to limited time and other practical factors. Yet, for the average family, we purchase a few appliances, some easy to obtain chemicals, and perform the task ourselves at home. It is so simple that an adolescent can easily learn how to put clothes in the washer, add detergent, and then move the clothes to the dryer when ready. Let's extend the analogy further. What if you did this with prepared food? You might buy some chicken at the store, freeze it, ship it, have someone else cook it, refreeze it, receive it, thaw it, warm it back up, then eat it. That sounds crazy but isn't that far off from a typical cold chain that you might find in place today for some therapies.
So how does this tie back to the work we are doing at ARTeSYN. Our goal is to enable "Abundance in Medicine". In the context of this story, we see our goals intersecting with the goals of the Swiss in two major areas. The first area is the reduction of infrastructure requirements. One of the major expenses in both money and footprint for pharmaceutical production is the support utilities required for traditional manufacturing processes. Single-use technologies eliminate the need to install complex and costly WFI and clean steam systems. While a hospital might already have these utilities in place, eliminating the need to expand them to support cell therapy manufacturing is a big win.
The second, as possibly most important, ties back to washing your clothes at home. The average Swiss or US citizen today might be able to figure out how to wash clothes by hand with the right amount of detergent, along with the right amount of scrubbing, and rinsing. But that would be inefficient and probably error-prone. Luckily we now have simple to use appliances that perform this task for us. At ARTeSYN we are working on ways to build machines with a similar, appliance-like, experience. Start by pressing a couple of buttons on a touch screen. Next, install a tube set that can only fit one way, eliminating possible mistakes. Hook up a few bags according to on-screen instructions. Finally, select the appropriate recipe and walk away. Are we there yet? The answer is no. Are we working in that direction? Absolutely.
Achieving an appliance-like state for what used to be complex unit operations is going to take a lot of collaboration from many of the players in the value chain. As an equipment manufacturer, we are focused on the hardware and the software, the screws and the sensors. How do we make a system that requires minimal training and eliminates or greatly reduces the chance for error? Treatment providers are going to need to rethink how they interact with the manufacturing process. How do they begin to take more ownership of the end-to-end process of delivering these novel therapies faster and at a lower cost?
These are all big challenges, but the building blocks are in place. We just need continued innovation and a refusal to accept the status quo up and down the supply chain, to bring these benefits to our ultimate customer; the patient.By Andy Robinson