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The Times They Are a-Changin’

Bob Dylan was seen as an unorthodox choice for the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature – and he was also referenced by Robert Chew from Commissioning Agents Inc, at the ISPE’s recent Facilities of the Future event. Chew explained that the times are indeed changing, both inside and outside the pharma industry. But not all changes can be anticipated – the outcome of the UK’s referendum on its EU membership and the result of the US elections both defied the predictions of statisticians.

Change was a key theme at the ISPE event and although discussions during the networking breaks often veered towards Brexit, the US elections, and the uncertain impact on science, the overall focus of the conference was on the positive changes shaping the industry, such as the development of exciting new technologies. Margaret Prendergast, a bioengineer at BioBots, discussed the possibilities of 3D printing in automating biology. We’ve delved into the potential of 3D printing in pharma manufacturing before in The Medicine Maker (1), but Prendergast focused on the area of organ printing, which could potentially revolutionize research and development, as well as the lives of patients waiting for transplants. Meanwhile, Tyler McQuade from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) discussed progress in making both small- and large-molecule drugs on demand. He envisions a transportable box that can be taken to remote locations, including battlefields, where the push of a button manufactures the required medicine – we also covered this hot topic earlier this year (2).

Such technologies almost sound too futuristic to be true, but both Prendergast and McQuade assured attendees that progress is being made rapidly, with McQuade adding that a number of big pharma companies have already contacted DARPA to get involved with the work. Another technology briefly mentioned during the event was the advent of augmented reality and virtual reality in manufacturing – we discuss this in great detail in this month’s cover feature.

These technologies are on the horizon and are worth watching closely, but other changes lie just around the corner. A key takeaway from the ISPE event was that if it can be automated, it will be automated. In fact, jokes were made that automation in the future will only require one man and a dog. The dog’s role will be to keep the man away from the automation, and the role of the man will be to feed the dog…

Jokes aside, big changes are coming. No change is ever straightforward, but unlike politics, at least technological changes can be better planned for.

Stephanie Sutton

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  1. S Sutton, “A new dimension to medicine manufacture”, The Medicine Maker, 0815, 20-27 (2015). Accessible at
  2. J Strachan, “Biopharma battlefield”, The Medicine Maker, 0716, 12 (2016). Accessible at
About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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