As we celebrate our 50th birthday in August 2022, we take the opportunity to look through the looking glass and imagine how our industry might have changed in the next 50 years.
Few can have imagined software guiding operators through the preparation of complex, cytotoxic chemicals fifty years ago, but technology evolves rapidly. As we look to find new ways to develop solutions that reduce the potential for errors, we expect the innovations to continue.
For instance, one emerging area of technology, where we expect to see growth, is in the adoption of robotics – perhaps the ultimate way to validate and replicate precise tasks. We could well see robots making compounds and filling syringes and chemotherapy bags in the not too distant future.
We have already seen the development of robotics for producing compounds used in drug development at a facility run by TCS client Astex Pharmaceuticals. Their lab features custom built fume cupboards designed to flex around the robots being used inside the cabinet.
Whatever changes we see, the clean air and containment industry needs to stay true to its founding principles. Innovation is helpful to us insofar as it protects all people, including operators and the end user of the product being manufactured. It’s estimated that drug errors, classified as ‘definitely avoidable’, were responsible for approximately 700 deaths in the NHS last year. While the financial cost of these incidents is around £98.5 million per annum, the untold heartache to families and friends is incalculable.
Reducing that total is a pressing issue for all of us. And it’s one of the reasons why the demand for containment solutions is growing. We’ve also seen Covid and the increase in cancer detection rates driving greater need for aseptic services.
Efficient procurement will be the focus
In the last few years, however, labs and hospital pharmacies have struggled to procure lifesaving clean air technology at the rate they would have wished. This is why Envair recently became an accredited supplier on the HealthTrust Europe framework – helping healthcare providers to make faster and more informed purchasing decisions.
Whilst lots of procurement has been centralised for the NHS, cleanrooms and aseptic pharmacies, and the isolators working in them, seem to have been left behind. We still see individual hospitals buying a small number of isolators rather than more joined up pharmacy services, where a dedicated centre of excellence, potentially in a cheaper site than a hospital estate, could provide fast and efficient personalised medicines to a wider number of healthcare settings in its local area. Cancer services are ahead of the curve here, and we would hope to see more of this joined up thinking in other aseptic pharmacy services.
Over the next fifty years, the world needs us to be every bit as innovative and as meticulous as we were in the last half a century. We’ve come a long way in that time but the need for better clean air solutions remains and there is still work to do.