By Erik Greb
The pharmaceutical industry has a history of developing innovative medicines and novel drug-delivery systems, but not all of its manufacturing processes use cuttingedge technologies. Citing regulatory and technological reasons, drug companies have been reluctant to adopt robotic automation for upstream applications, such as isolated fill–finish, even though the automotive and semiconductor industries have used robots extensively for years. But changes in the market, such as increased generic competition and decreasing batch sizes, could make robots crucial to drugmakers’ future success.
In terms of accuracy and speed, robots far exceed what the pharmaceutical industry requires. But, for a long time, robots did not meet the industry’s requirements for aseptic manufacturing. Operators could not decontaminate robots with hydrogen peroxide in a way that could be validated. In addition, robots shed particles at unacceptable levels and often were made of materials, such as aluminum, that were not suitable for filling operations. But these problems have since been overcome, and technological advances are no longer necessary for drugmakers to implement robots. “They can do it today,” says Chris Procyshyn, CEO of VanRx Pharmasystems.