GSK adopts Formula One racing mentality to speed Breo inhaler production

Courtesy of McLaren

At first blush, the pedestrian world of drug manufacturing and the high-speed environs of Formula One racing would seem to have little in common. But GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) CEO Andrew Witty drew a line between the two, and a partnership with McLaren Automotive is driving production advances at GSK drug plants.

"McLaren are most well known as a racing company, but when you look at their philosophy, it's very much around data-driven decision-making to win," Stephen Mayhew, director of R&D strategy at GSK, told The Telegraph. "We want to use data to make informed decisions."

Since 2011, GSK has been working with McLaren Applied Technologies, part of the organization that helps the racing team to sort through thousands of pieces of info to make split-second decisions to help its racers win. The two started with GSK's toothpaste lines at its Maidenhead factory. McLaren taught GSK how to gather, analyze and act rapidly on data that identifies production bottlenecks. It also worked to instill a pit-stop mentality on the production line so it could shave time off its changeovers from tube sizes and styles. "The choreography of the changeover [between lines] is like a tire change," Geoff McGrath, vice president of McLaren Applied Technologies, told the newspaper.

Breo Ellipta Inhaler--Courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline

After that it worked with GSK's Ware plant to help it speed up production of its Breo Ellipta inhaler. The treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was approved by the FDA in May 2013 and in Europe in December 2013. It is forecast to reach $1.3 billion in peak sales, but the plant was having some production issues. A redesign by McLaren engineers of jigs holding the devices during assembly did the trick, The Telegraph reports. Again line teams were configured like race teams, boosting morale and efficiency, McGrath said. The plant upped production 50% and now produces 20,000 more inhalers a day. In December, the company said the complex would get an £80 million investment to build a new plant to make the new-generation inhaler. The company currently has about 500 of its 800 workers at the plant making the inhalers.

The partnership is now aiming its processes at R&D with the creation of a system to sort its extensive trove of data and decide which molecules have the most potential. "It's about reducing the chances of missing that vital piece of information that could tell us something critical about medicines and information," Mayhew tells The Telegraph. "As there is more data and information out there, there are opportunities that we weren't even looking for."

- read The Telegraph story