What the Adoption of Robotics Means for Students in R&D Pharmaceutical Training

R&D pharmaceutical program
The pharmaceutical industry is going through a number of changes as it responds to new pressures in the marketplace, such as rising drug prices, a spike in regulatory controls, and increased research and development (R&D) costs. One of the many changes that have resulted in this new environment is an increasing adoption of robotics and automation, not only with regards to manufacturing processes, but also for certain elements of R&D.

Within the pharmaceutical R&D process are many tasks well-suited to automation by virtue of their well-defined, repetitive, and precise nature. By making use of advanced robotics to automate these tasks, R&D departments are not only increasing their efficiency, but also freeing up human workers to concentrate on the less repetitive tasks involved in laboratory R&D.

If you’re training for a career in pharmaceutical R&D, here’s a quick primer on the increasing role of robotics, and what it might mean for you.

R&D Processes Can Run Around the Clock with Robotic Automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) involves using software with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to perform repetitive, high-volume tasks. These systems often require no coding or programming, instead making use of user-friendly, drag-and-drop functionality. In many cases, RPA can be integrated with the automated systems already in use in a lab, and robots can be configured for certain tasks within a matter of days.

One of the many benefits of employing RPA technology in pharmaceutical R&D is that it means certain work processes – those which can be easily automated – can be left to run around-the-clock, rather than being limited to standard working hours, as is the case with much of the work currently done in pharmaceutical labs. This means that equipment doesn’t need to sit idle while workers are away from the job, but can continue performing research and development tasks around the clock, thereby improving the efficiency and speed of the R&D process.

Robotic Automation Provides an Advantage in Data Collection

One of the other advantages of using robotic systems in pharmaceutical R&D is that these systems are able to keep track of much more information than a human worker carrying out the same task. This information can be recorded automatically, and in an industry where proof of compliance is such a critical concern, this offers a big advantage, since all of a robotic system’s actions are traceable and auditable.

Robotics provides an advantage in pharmaceutical R&D by making actions traceable and auditable
Robotics provides an advantage in pharmaceutical R&D by making actions traceable and auditable

What R&D Pharmaceutical Training Students Should Know

As Dan Skovronsky, president of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co.’s research labs, said in a Wall Street Journal article on the use of robotics in pharmaceutical R&D: “Ultimately, we want to have humans focus mainly on what they’re best at: thinking and strategy, rather than mixing and purifying and shaking [samples]… It’s not a strategy to reduce our scientific headcount.”

For those studying in an R&D pharmaceutical program, this means that automation could, over time, change the balance of responsibilities for humans working in labs, offloading some of the more repetitive tasks in the laboratory to automated robotic systems in order to allow workers to focus on the areas which can’t be so easily automated.

Robotic automation could free up workers to concentrate on less repetitive elements of the R&D process
Robotic automation could free up workers to concentrate on less repetitive elements of the R&D process

Are you ready to begin your career in pharmaceutical R&D?

Contact Toronto Institute of Pharmaceutical Technology to learn more about our pharmaceutical research and development training.

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