This morning I read about a public–private collaboration that reflects many of the latest trends in the drug industry today. The project began when the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) created the 21st Century Biodefense (21CB) initiative to enhance the nation’s biosecurity. Robert J. Cindrich, who is leading the initiative, said in a press release that the project’s goal was to foster advances in vaccine development and manufacturing. Battelle (Columbus, OH), a research and development organization, IBM (Armonk, NY), Merck (Whitehouse Station, NJ), and GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI) have all joined the collaboration so far.
To close what Cindrich called a “critical gap in the nation’s defenses against bioterrorism and infectious diseases,” the initiative seeks to construct a flexible vaccine development and production facility. GE Healthcare will take charge of the manufacturing-related aspects of the collaboration, and its contributions to the project are a short list of the hot topics in the industry at the moment. The company will use its own single-use components to help build a flexible manufacturing facility that can produce several vaccines at the same time and switch production quickly from one vaccine to another. Branded manufacturers and contract service providers alike have been using the same tools to achieve the same goals, albeit for reasons that have more to do with the marketplace than with biodefense.
If the 21CB initiative gets the government funding that it’s looking for, the collaboration promises to benefit more than the public health. The interactions between Battelle and Merck could lead to the development of new kinds of vaccines, or at least new methods for discovering and developing these products in high demand. And GE Healthcare, helped by its private partners and public funding, could create process and facility designs that the rest of the industry could learn from. The collaboration seems a ripe opportunity for increasing biopharmaceutical manufacturers’ efficiency. Also, the project could directly create 1000 jobs, and possibly as many as 6000 indirectly.
This initiative is emblematic of the pressures, priorities, and technologies that influence the drug industry today. I think it has the potential to show the way forward for the biopharmaceutical manufacturers and safeguard the public welfare. It sounds like it could be a win–win situation.