In the race to find a COVID-19 drug, is manufacturing holding back progress?

Pharmaceutical manufacturers will need to ramp up production capacity if they are to find a treatment for the current pandemic … but how? Here, Keith Tilley, CEO at Intoware, explains how workflow technology can help to improve manufacturing efficiency and compliance

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic may prove to be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. With our healthcare system stretched to the absolute limit, pharmaceutical manufacturers are under immense pressure to find new treatments and, ultimately, develop a vaccine against this virus.

The response from pharma and biotech companies to finding a COVID -19 treatment has led to more than 1000 clinical trials with more than 150 treatments being tested. Given that the virus was only discovered on 31 December 2019, this is impressive. But the ongoing challenge remains regarding how to boost production efficiency as new treatments are found.

Prior to the pandemic, we had seen increased interest at Intoware from pharma manufacturers in our automation platform, WorkfloPlus, to help digitise their production processes. In our experience, the challenge faced by many manufacturers is that they still rely on spreadsheets, word documents or even paper to complete tasks.

This may seem fine, but it fails to offer the accuracy or granularity that can be gained through digitising manufacturing operations. Imagine being able to see, for example, how long each task really takes by taking photos or videos to record information in real-time or accessing a process by scanning a barcode or calling for live help if things need attention — all through a simple mobile device or headset.

Ensuring compliance

Intoware developed WorkfloPlus to help digitise workflow processes that need to be followed using both mobile and augmented reality technology. In doing so, it ensures that a process can be consistently followed, audited and provides the necessary data analytics to ensure compliance, which is ideal for highly regulated industries such as the pharmaceutical sector.

Keith Tilley, CEO, Intoware

WorkfloPlus ensures better compliance by providing a thorough audit trail of “who did what and when” by cataloguing every decision point and action during manufacturing operations; as such, there are fewer errors and, at the same time, it enables improved productivity. But what happens if the manufacturing landscape were to change quickly?

A single source of truth

The speed of change is rapid; any update to the business process is sent to all users instantly, providing a “single source of truth.” It’s not sent as a paper trail, which means that everyone is always using the same version and it’s easier to schedule downtime and manage production demands as things change. But if you’re relying on spreadsheets or written notes, this change could take many hours and be inconsistent.

When humans are involved, errors can never be totally eliminated; but, you can significantly derisk your operation through automation and, of course, if you have the audit trail that allows users to analyse the data at a granular level, you can make further enhancements to reduce risks.

Ultimately, workflow automation removes paper-based processes, improves communications and collaboration to help free manufacturers from silo-based processes that are the result of ad-hoc systems.

For example, drug manufacturing operations require regular cleaning and changeovers between each batch; by using WorkfloPlus, forward-thinking companies can schedule this procedure to be done in a constant and timely manner, minimise downtime for greater cost efficiency and, at the same time, generate a thorough audit check that a manual “tick list” could never deliver.


Whether it’s inefficient processes or poor compliance derived from a reliance on ad-hoc systems, these are just some of the issues holding pharmaceutical manufacturing back from achieving the capacity needed to counter this pandemic. It’s not a question of whether to automate … but when!