A Pharmaceutical Challenge for Technocrats

Pharmaceuticals have their own unique technology and pricing positions compared with the other chemical products. Can we introduce innovative development and manufacturing technologies for the pharmaceuticals sector? The answer in unequivocal ‘yes!’ We just need to understand the roadblocks and overcome them.

Since we want to live forever, we are willing to pay the demanded price for a drug. Our willingness to pay for long life along with the monopoly during the life of the patent has been the primary driver for setting drug pricing. Drug prices are set at the highest level the market will bear. Once the patent expires, brand companies move on to invent new drugs.

The above two factors ensure the desired profit margins for the pharmaceutical companies. Any costs due to regulatory mandate are passed on to the consumer. Thus, the need for product, process development and manufacturing technology innovation has been minimal. Inefficiencies are an accepted part of doing business. Generics have followed ethical (brand) companies in their modus operandi.   

Regulatory bodies have cajoled pharmaceutical companies toward innovation by creating PAT, CMC, QBD and other TLAs. However, these cannot be forced or mandated unless some other event takes place, which will have a financial return. [We are familiar with the phrase “you can lead the horse to water but cannot make it drink.”]

There has to be a solution for this dilemma. Only an “economic incentive” will result in innovation. 

Latent blame for the lack of innovation is placed on regulatory agencies. This is unjust. The repeatability of quality at the active pharma ingredients (API) and the final formulated drug stages is mandated- as it should be. However, the “path to quality” should not be mandated. Companies should be held responsible for “quality failure”. Penalty for quality failure has to be severe. Companies should have the freedom to choose the “path to quality” as it is the road to innovation and creativity.

Providing manufacturers with the freedom to choose their “path to quality” is the equivalent of stopping the sampling of intermediates” for quality . This will force everyone to “drink the water”. Companies will save significant money, which will be additional incentive for pharmaceutical development and manufacturing technology innovation.

Stopping intermediate sampling could be encouraged and even mandated. It will happen only if we understand “everything about the raw materials and intermediates but were afraid to ask.” I am quite confident that based on the education and training that chemical engineers and chemists receive they can become the proponents of “stopping the sampling of intermediates.” With their backing we will arrive at the destination where the regulators want us to go. Technology innovation is not hard and for the technocrats it is the most exhilarating experience.

We need to keep API and drug formulation as separate processes and that will simplify innovation. In general, many articles discuss pharmaceutical process improvements. These do not include API manufacturing process improvements but only refer to formulation process improvements. McKinsey in a recent report suggests that the pharmaceutical companies have an opportunity that exceeds about $65 billion through productivity improvements in the drug formulation area. Based on my review of the API segment, I believe that the opportunity in the API sector based on yield, technology improvements and conservation far exceeds $65 billion.

The question is: “Are the chemists and chemical engineers ready and willing to take the challenge?” I know the answer and it is “Yes we can”. If we do, many of the TLAs would become irrelevant.