How COVID-19 is enabling a new era of digital manufacturing

· 3AG blog

Moderna’s launch of a COVID-19 vaccine and its approval for use in the United States, Canada and the European Union capped off what can only be described as a wild year. Behind the scenes, what unfolded was nothing short of a digital revolution in the biopharmaceutical industry. For other industries and the manufacturing sector in general, this success story is also a case study demonstrating the benefits of digital transformation.

We’re all digital in our genes

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that digital transformation makes sense for the pharmaceutical industry. After all, our genetic information is literally digitally transcribed in our DNA, with base pairs adenine-thymine (A-T) and cytosine-guanine (C-G) acting as zeros and ones. If you need a quick refresher on high school biology, check out this article.

Elvis vaccination

Traditional vaccine production is analog

Vaccines have been around for over a century, and traditional production methods have not changed much. As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza vaccines are most commonly produced by taking weakened viruses or vaccine viruses and injecting them into eggs or cell cultures to effectively farm them. The harvested viruses are then inactivated, purified and distributed as “flu shots”.

Not surprisingly, growing vaccines in this manner can be challenging, with so many variables at play. Issues can include in-lab virus mutations, difficulty growing viruses in eggs, and the long lead-time required to produce vaccines this way.