Part of the Solution: How Software Developers Simplify the Production of New Drugs
At Sartorius, software development experts work on programs that automate processes in drug manufacturing – helping to bring medicine to patients worldwide faster. This makes them part of the solution in the fight against diseases such as cancer or diabetes.
This article is posted on Sartorius Blog.
Across the globe, vaccine manufacturers were facing a major challenge in 2021: Effective vaccines against the coronavirus had been developed and approved. But how could they now be produced in large quantities and made available worldwide?
"Today, software is key to creating robust production processes for any biopharmaceutical," says Norman Trapp, who leads a global team of 130 - the software experts behind Sartorius’ technologies, such as bioreactors, purification and filtration devices. Their goal: Simplifying the customers' work, from automation, to smart functions to user-friendly interfaces.
Today, software is key to creating robust production processes for any biopharmaceutical.
Head of Product Development Bioprocess Solutions Software
Going From Lab-Scale to Mass-Scale
Let’s take a step back: The research and development of biopharmaceuticals such as vaccines or cancer drugs takes place in biorecators and involves countless experiments and high costs. It is therefore performed in small quantities in correspondingly small devices – at 10mL lab scale, for example – where living cells produce active ingredients.
Once the most effective active ingredient is discovered, robust processes need to be defined to efficiently and safely mass-cultivate and produce the new medication – in up to 2,000 liter single use bioreactors. "In the past, numerous calculations and experiments were necessary to determine the new parameters. What’s the best pH value? How about the oxygen supply? What’s the right temperature? And many more. Today, our software can assist to simplify and even take over that job,” Norman explains.
This software, Process Insights, provides prescient insights into the production process for such a scenario and helps define the parameters for upscaling recipes.
This enables our customers to reduce the number of experiments significantly and safes a lot of time.
Head of Product Development BPS Software
“In the future, we will even go one step further: These experiments will no longer be carried out in real life, but will be simulated, making the process even faster,” Norman predicts.
Ensuring Optimal Production Processes
Moving into the production process is where the main part of the teams’ work lies: smart software for bioprocess data management, monitoring and automation. "On the one hand, this includes BioBrain, the software that drives all Sartorius bioreactors and does the automation job. For example, it monitors the oxygen levels and temperature for ideal production conditions and automatically adjusts them as needed,” Norman describes.
In biopharma production, however, one bioreactor seldomly comes alone. “Customers usually have a chain of 20 or more devices. And they use data analytics to optimize and automate the whole process. First, however, they need all the data.” Norman’s team has a solution to all these tasks: BioPAT® MFCS, a SCADA Software (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), with a wide variety of functions including collecting data and handling all automation tasks throughout the production chain. This is individualized to the customers’ needs.
“You can describe our job this way,” Norman sums up. “We consider: What do we need to acquire data from the devices in a production chain? How do we make them available centrally? How much data will arrive and in which data model do we store them so that the data analysis software can work with it? And then we build the software for it."
A special advantage of the SCADA system: customers can easily license it via a web portal. “In the future, we’re planning on providing more and more software-as-a-service solutions,”Norman says, looking at the tasks ahead.
Growing Digitalization, Growing Team
With the digitalization of the biopharma industry on the move, so is the product development software team at Sartorius. When Norman joined in 2020, the department counted 90 employees. Today, they are 130 people - from Royston in England, to Guxhagen and Göttingen in Germany, to Arvada in the U.S. and to Bangalore in India.
“In Bangalore, our Asia hub, we are working in a co-working space downtown. We are also expanding our teams in North America." The idea is to be where the customers are – and where the talent is. “We are currently looking for software engineers, platform architects, product owners, test managers and many other experts,” Norman says.
As the company, team and tasks are developing quickly, a lot of opportunities are being created. “Everyone here has the chance to contribute their ideas and passion. We work on agile projects with state-of-the-art equipment in a young and dynamic team. However, what I personally find most rewarding, is the fact that we as software people are directly involved in our products. We help to accelerate the manufacture of drugs – so they reach patients faster. This is an important driver for me every day."