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Biopharma insiders believe it’s time to invest in technology again.
In October, I attended MasterControl’s Masters Summit 2022 in Salt Lake City. One message that kept resonating was that the pharma industry needed to keep its focus on new technologies and the innovations that come with them.
Unfortunately, recent economic developments have many companies in the life sciences industry forced to reevaluate their approaches to investing.
“In the CFO office, our first instinct is—when there’s a downturn in the economy—let’s brace for it,” Michelle Tanner, chief financial officer of MasterControl, said during a conversation at the event. “All of the investment firms and all of the companies, the first place their heads go is to stop spending. Their natural inclination is to reserve cash to get more efficient.”
Despite this attitude, however, Tanner insisted that now is the time companies should be focusing on investing in new technologies the most.
As she explained, CFOs and other c-suite executives focused on the bottom line should take note of new technologies and innovations that can make the companies more productive. This way, the improvements will outweigh the costs of investing in these new tools, and the company will be in a better, more stable place.
“I was fascinated when I came to MasterControl because I had not been in a regulated industry, and I was shocked to the prevalence of manual process in a lot of life sciences companies. For example, many companies are still using paper to manage and document processes,” said Tanner.
Shelly LaPointe, senior manager of IT at Thermo Fischer Scientific, also spoke with me about how life sciences companies need to embrace new technologies. Aside from the financial benefits, older methods can cause significant issues in today’s world. For example, LaPointe discussed the problems that companies may face when sticking to a model based on keeping hard, physical copies of every signed document (using wet ink).
“We’ve been moving away from wet ink in so many ways, and I think the pandemic sealed our fate,” explained LaPointe. “We used to do hard copy; we would have binders stored in file cabinets, but we can’t do that anymore. Our team is spread across the world. So, how can someone scan something to send to the other side of the world and keep track of who has the original copy? If there’s a correction, all hell breaks loose. You can’t just scan these papers; you also need to run optical character recognition so you can do a text query. Having a picture of a document is worthless.”
Companies relying on wet ink or manual processes may face problems related to physical storage limitations. While digital files may be corrupted or damaged, it’s easier and more space efficient to make backup copies. Paper files, however, require physical space, which may mean keeping these documents in labs or other sterile areas.
“From my experience in the biotech and pharma side, when we had issues with sterility in microbiology, a lot of the time the spaces were contaminated with things that came off [the] paper,” said LaPointe. “If we’re not introducing that into the facility, we’re not facing that issue. The storage of the paper has to deal with pest control and silverfish. If there’s any kind of moisture, there could be mold. If there’s a fire and the sprinklers go off, then you’ve got smoke damage and fire damage.”
Many life sciences companies depend on investors, especially smaller ones that rely on equity investment. While a difficult economy may make investors wary, Tanner believes that the best way to win their confidence is by behaving like a company that is ready to embrace the future and grow for years to come. A good approach to achieving this, according to Tanner, is by embracing and incorporating new technologies wherever they can improve performance.
“It’s the secret to turn the economy around,” said Tanner. “We’re going through a technology revolution. It’s been happening for 20 years, and we’re starting to see the eclipse of it. If there’s one way to combat inflation, it is through innovation and technology. As we continue to face the macroeconomics of inflation and recession, technology is going to be the secret to combat that. For life sciences, specifically, the industry is up; and it’s estimated to continue to grow over the next 10 years. Investing in technology will make companies more competitive, too.”
Mike Hollan is Pharm Exec’s editor and can be reached at