Internet of Things and Pharmaceutical Industry

by Ming Chua, Partner HGP Asia

HGP Data Integrity Overview

The Internet of Things is here and it is going to change every aspect of our lives and we in the Pharmaceutical Industry have to be ready for a culture shock!

In the past 6 months, I’ve been spending time this year learning about and being exposed to the Internet of Things, specifically its application in Industry 4.0.

4th Industrial Revolution powered by Digitalization

We have entered the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While the previous three were essentially the discovery of the combustion engine, the production line and automation, the new age will be powered by digitalization. Increasingly our everyday devices, tools, equipment are becoming “smart” with embedded connective technology. I was invited to attend the Industry of Things World Asia Conference this week where experts from HP Enterprise, Cisco and Accenture spoke on the Vision and Challenges of the new age. Also during week, the news reported of Robin Li, the CEO of Chinese Internet Giant – Baidu, jumping into a driverless car and taking it for a joy ride on the crowded roads of Beijing. He made it out totally unscathed!

Pharma’s Approach

The Pharmaceutical Industry sees these changes and it is embracing them albeit prudently. On the forefront, we see a flurry of acquisitions such as Roche acquiring a diabetes applications company. Patients and consumers are being paired with smart devices which feedback a smorgasbord of information about our vitals which allows our healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies to know how their products are performing, respond more efficiently to the patients’/consumers’ condition and make informed and predictive decisions in terms of patient care as well as those within its supply chain.

The consumer front will drive and shape the supply chain. Where traditionally in the Pharma Industry, the uptake of new manufacturing technology has been extremely conservative due to a myriad of reasons ranging from regulatory to budgetary, I believe we will see innovative and transformational changes on our pharmaceutical shop floors.

Pharmaceutical Production in the Age of Digitalization

In the pharmaceutical plants of the future, I imagine that Process Analytical Technology, which has been much talked about and piloted for over a decade but scarcely realized, will eventually become a reality. Hundreds even thousands of Instruments and devices with embedded connective technology can collect real time data and information of online manufacturing processes increasingly take over traditional quality control testing measures. These Smart, Business Intelligent Plants will no longer manufacture via a batch process but a continuous process, all this powered by smart equipment and instruments.

Intelligent Data Processing – Better Products

Digitalization of largely paper based manufacturing processes is already taking place, but the Internet of Things would completely revolutionize the current approach. Terabytes of process data will be produced and stored, and traditional methods of housing this information with private data centres will no longer be feasible. The industry will be driven towards adopting cloud solutions powered by block chain and similar technology. These would challenge traditional mindsets of data storage, data integrity, privacy and protection. The information will be processed by intelligent applications, coupled with analytics and integrated with end consumer information and feedback, allowing for better quality, more efficacious and effective products!

Resistance is futile – Let’s get on the Driver’s Seat

The walls, barriers and roadblocks to these changes will eventually crumble. Resistance to these changes is futile. Are our industry leaders brave enough to go all out and take that leap of faith? At some point, like Mr Robin Li, the leaders of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing world will have to dare to jump into this “driverless car” and not worry too much about the outcome. I truly believe things won’t be too scary, and like Mr Robin Li, he might upset a few traffic cops along the way, but come out completely unharmed and we will all be better for it!”


  1. Thomas Halfmann on 13. July 2017 at 19:41

    Thanx Ming for the real good article and your thoughts on IoT and the Pharmaceutical Industry. It will be a culture shock. As an old school MES guy, I am wondering what will happen on the shop floor. Will MES go away? Will all devices and equipment so smart that a central intelligence like an MES is not longer required?

    I believe that we will see more and more changes in our manufacturing IT architecture. I also believe that concepts like ISA-95 require an update. At the end there will be no manufacturing IT architecture as we have learnt for the last 20 or more years. We will converge into an operational architecture based upon services rather than on on-site IT systems. With alls these moves into direction of IIoT, strong security concepts will become much more important than ever before.

    So Ming you are absolutely right: We need to think boldly and be prepared for a culture shock!

  2. Coping with dementia-caregiver's guide on 8. April 2019 at 9:29

    Excellent blog.

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