In an industry as conservative as the pharmaceutical industry, it is common practice to be adverse to new technologies because they are often viewed as too much of a risk. However, in this effort to play it safe, companies force themselves into a repetitive state of employing technologies that may not be the most efficient or effective. Rather than getting stuck in old habits — or conversely, jumping too quickly into new ones — Merck has put together a group of teams it calls the Technology Encouragement Collaborators, or TEC, to look at new technologies and determine whether or not to implement them.
Jeff Johnson, new technology lead at Merck, oversees this virtual network of experts, which consists of representatives from research, commercialization, and engineering in vaccines and biologics. “The reason we put this initiative together is because we realized the difficulty of bringing innovation in,” explains Johnson. “What we find at Merck is that business processes are set up around programs and molecules, so if a particular project needs to implement a new technology, it needs to be assessed first. They’re on very short timelines, though, and new technology is a risk. It takes time to assess that risk, and oftentimes, companies do not have the time or resources to dedicate to that effort once the project is underway. By assessing the technologies proactively, the risk of introducing one later, at the time it’s needed, is lower. Often, if you wait until a program needs it, it is already too late. This was just a way we came up with to lower that hurdle.”
So far, Merck has identified around 10 new technologies it believes are worth looking at, and one of those was single use. Specifically, Johnson and his TEC team wanted to identify opportunities and enablers for single-use technology on a current stainless-steel monoclonal-antibody platform process. “We currently do not have a large biologics network at Merck, but we believe biologics are the wave of the future,” says Johnson. “So we asked ourselves – if we need to build a facility, should it be stainless or should it be single use?”