June 13, 2019 / All Stories

Technology driving ongoing improvements to patient care

While much work goes into the discovery and development of a molecule, AbbVie is continuously driving for improvements.

Calum Park, Ph.D., vice president, science and technology, AbbVie

Beyond the initial discovery

In the world of biopharma, there’s so much talk about molecules, chemical reactions and medicine. But what can go unseen is a lot of the heavy lifting that goes beyond initial discovery, that chemical breakthrough.

Creating consistency and efficiency

Calum Park, Ph.D., understands the challenge of staying ahead every day. AbbVie’s vice president of science and technology leads teams that support various stages of a product’s life cycle.

Early on, Park’s team gets a medicine ready for commercialization right before product launch when patients will actually use it. Once the product is launched, Park’s team collaborates with suppliers and internal manufacturing and quality teams so they can ramp up production to serve more patients.

“My teams determine what technology is needed to create and recreate specific chemical and biological processes at our various facilities,” Park describes. “We’ve seen growing numbers of patients for several diseases, and delivering efficiency without sacrificing efficacy is critical to making an impact on patient health.”

Park’s teams support the small molecule and biological processes globally – from the U.S. to Europe and Asia. That means making the same product and quality standards, in some cases greater than 10 years post-development, in facilities thousands of miles away from the original lab and having scaled up the production many times since clinical trials.

“The challenge is to take that process from the original facility and producing the right consistency with each dosage,” Park describes. “We’re doing this with different equipment and raw materials from different vendors.”

Efficiency and consistency are critical components of Park’s world.

“If we detect a trend in our process parameters, for example an impurity at any level, at any point in the production process, we will conduct a thorough investigation,” says Park. “We will identify the source and work with our suppliers and even their suppliers, to find a solution.”

Park’s team will not only correct according to the results of the investigation, but also commission back-up suppliers to help ensure a consistent supply of the medicine.

Bold ideas from young minds

Science and technology are also at the heart of AbbVie’s Innovation Center at the University of Illinois’ Research Park. Masha Trenhaile, senior consultant, business systems, AbbVie, manages the site, which opened in 2014. She also oversees the students who intern there. The interns are thinking outside the box on projects related to company priorities to help improve patient care.

“The students dream big. They’re thinking of what hasn’t been done and what some might think is not possible to advance solutions for patients,” says Trenhaile. “Information technology is transformative and, in some cases, they’re thinking of ways the medicine or the packaging can collect data that could go to a physician, in turn further helping the patient.”

When the Innovation Center started, Trenhaile oversaw eight interns. Today, there are more than 90, and the program continues to grow as a hub that fosters young scientists who are identifying new technologies and bold ideas.

Progress in packaging

Those same products spend years with James Hughes long before patients get their hands on them. As the head of AbbVie’s Packaging Center of Excellence, Hughes oversees the design of new packaging, which involves human factors testing.

“A lot of our work goes unseen, but it can take up to three years to create a package,” says Hughes. “From there, once the product is on the market, we look for ways to improve what’s in the patient’s hands. It’s our job to make sure new technologies are applied to our packaging.”

Hughes’ teams have made improvements to bottles and devices. Taking into account the joint pain experienced by some patients, they’ve made improvements to one product so that it’s easier to use. These new ideas are important, as the packaging is the first interaction a patient has with a medicine.

“We recognize the patient landscape is evolving,” says Hughes. “As we get better data, we must continue advancing our technology, our packaging and our product so we can make the most of the initial molecule to help benefit patients.”

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Name: Matt Goebel
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