AZ looks to auto plants for efficiency gurus

Years ago, Japanese car manufacturers turned to management gurus to make their plants more efficient. Now, AstraZeneca is hiring automotive gurus to apply their efficiencies to drug production, the Financial Times reports. It's yet another example of how pharma is borrowing from other industries in an effort to cut costs and streamline operations.

Under an agreement with Jaguar Land Rover, the U.K.-based drugmaker has borrowed two "lean experts" for an efficiency push. They will look for ways to cut waste, tighten up supply chains and speed up production. "Pharmaceutical supply chains have been fat and happy," Marc Jones, AZ's VP of global operations, told the FT. "There's a lot we can learn from the lean culture that came from Toyota to remove waste and focus on what the customer wants." The two experts are based at AstraZenecas's facility in Macclesfield, its second-largest manufacturing site, which turns out more than 40 products.

The company has also tapped industries such as consumer goods for expertise, hiring full-time staffers who can turn fresh eyes on its operations. And it's not the only drugmaker to do so. Recently, Novartis' global pharma chief Joe Jiminez said he was planning to apply financial benchmarks he learned in the consumer-goods business. With the much-feared patent cliff approaching for many of the world's best-selling drugs, pharma needs all the efficiency it can get.

- see the FT story