Earlier this week I read a great article on Reuters about how pharma companies are looking to the automobile industry for innovation by transferring some of the lean methodologies learned in car manufacturing to pharmaceuticals. As a pharmaceutical journalist, I read a lot of news stories and articles about innovative new products, R&D projects and partnerships, and sometimes it’s too easy to let your eyes gloss over these as everyday business. Earlier this year though, the partnership between GlaxoSmithKline the McLaren Group really grabbed my attention. Pharma… and a racing-car maker? That’s definitely not an everyday occurrence. Or is it?
GSK isn’t the first pharma company to set its eyes on the automobile industry. In 2009, AstraZeneca borrowed some experts in lean manufacturing from Jaguar Land Rover, who were to apply their knowledge of efficient car production techniques to medicines. I’m researching at the moment how the project went so watch this space and hopefully I’ll be able to provide an update on this in the near future.
So what is it that cars and pharmaceuticals have in common? Today, the majority of a car’s value is attributable to suppliers but before this the industry used to be dominated by Western companies, much like the pharma industry. As the industry found the need to implement aggressive streamlining and cost cutting, carmakers now maintain only a few core operations, with everything else taking place across a huge network of contractors.
In the pharma industry, we’re already seeing greater numbers of companies outsourcing certain functions, such as clinical trials, or in-licensing new compounds from smaller companies.
The article (available here) pulls out a lot more similarities between the two industries. If you like pharma and cars then it’s definitely worth a read!
The article doesn’t provide any updates on the GSK partnership, which is a shame because it’s something I’m really looking forward to hearing more about. Where as AstraZeneca was looking to cars for lean expertise, GSK is hoping to extrapolate some of the technology using in Formula 1 racing to improve its R&D, such as seeing whether real-time monitoring technologies can be applied to human studies.