Despite being home to the world's largest vaccine maker, India is currently struggling to meet demand as Covid-19 cases in the country surge. It's a sad situation and one that highlights the importance of pharmaceutical manufacturing scaling.
In January 2021, India started its Covid-19 vaccine drive. At the time, Covid-19 cases in the country were plummeting and there was a fair bit of optimism about the future. Fast forward to today, however, and it’s a very different story, with India reeling under the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
With daily new Covid cases hitting over 300,000 on April 21 — a trend that has continued since — and the total number of infections now standing at over 20m, India is desperate to ramp up its vaccination drive.
The worrying reality is that India is now vaccinating about half as many people per day as it did a month ago. This is despite the fact that India’s own Serum Institute of India (SII) is the world’s largest vaccine maker and produces AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s vaccine in the country. In fact, as part of a World Health Organisation (WHO)-led scheme, India even exported vaccines to other countries.
Speaking to the Financial Times, SII chief executive officer, Adar Poonawalla, said India’s Covid-19 vaccine shortage would continue until at least July, by which time vaccine production capacity will have increased to 100 million doses (10 crore) a month from the current 60-70 million (6-7 crore).
Prior to the recent surge in demand, the SII was meant to supply the majority of the doses needed to help India achieve its ambitious target of vaccinating 250million people by July. However, as of May 3, 2021 India had only fully vaccinated 28.4m individuals (just 2.1% of its 1.38bn population).
The knock-on effect is being felt globally, with countries that rely on importing vaccines, such as the Philippines, now revising their own vaccination ambitions. Indeed, Philippine vaccine czar, Carlito Galvez, said on May 4 that the country would likely have to lower its target of vaccinating 70m people this year because of India’s renewed focus on meeting its own demand.
The need to quickly scale up pharmaceutical production
As the situation in India at present highlights, the ability to quickly scale production is paramount for pharmaceutical manufacturers. But as UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, told the House of Commons on March 18, “the process of manufacturing vaccines is complicated, and subject to unpredictability”.
One obvious way to boost production is to add additional capacity in the form of new factories.
However, the UK Government’s £215m (to date) investment in the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) — the UK’s first national vaccines manufacturing and innovation facility, which was announced back in December 2018 — highlights how building new factories takes both time and significant capital. While most pharmaceutical manufacturers are in a position to spend the funds, the associated timeframes can make this option a non-starter, especially when production needs to be scaled up in ways never before imagined.
Another potential approach for pharmaceutical manufacturers is to adapt existing facilities and/or partner with industry rivals to expedite production by taking advantage of any spare manufacturing capacity they might have. The former, again, requires significant investment in terms of both time and capital. The latter, while a potential game changer during times of crises such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, is unlikely to be a top choice for pharmaceutical manufacturing firms. Furthermore, as a zero-sum game, such a short-term approach can potentially impact the production of other needed medicines.
So what else can pharmaceutical manufacturers do to quickly and cost effectively scale production?
It’s time to get smart by leveraging data-driven insights
It’s incredible to think that there are firms in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry — a sector that is expected to reach $1,173.3bn (£843.93bn) by 2030 — that still entrust spreadsheets to handle extremely important aspects of the manufacturing process like batch scheduling and production management.
By implementing Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) systems, pharmaceutical manufacturers can realise a number of benefits. To cite an example, business management software specialist The Access Group was asked by one pharmaceutical manufacturer to help them replace archaic spreadsheets with APS software. As a result, the firm was able to identify bottlenecks within their operations, increasing capacity in turn. By the end of a one-year optimisation programme, the manufacturer’s facility had achieved 20% faster through-put without investing in additional resources.
This is just one example of how APS systems can tangibly benefit pharmaceutical manufacturers, boosting both their production capacity and bottom line, while all the time making their entire operation more efficient.
Finally, how important is achieving true efficiency? Another pharmaceutical manufacturer The Access Group partnered with to help them move away from spreadsheets and flipboards was able to raise their number of batches by 28%. This highlights that eliminating inefficiencies, no matter where they occur in the production process and how small they might be, has the potential to significantly boost a manufacturing facility’s ability to deliver ROI for the organisation.
*All images courtesy of Depositphotos