By Gareth Macdonald

Investment in artificial intelligence will help the Australian biopharmaceutical industry digitize operations and compete on the global stage, according to the team behind the country’s new digital development hub. The hub—officially known as the ARC Digital Bioprocess Development Hub—was established in June by the University of Melbourne, University of Technology Sydney, RMIT University, CSL, Cytiva, and Patheon Biologics.

The aim is to increase the adoption of digital technology by drug makers according to Sally Gras, PhD, professor from the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Melbourne.

“Common challenges in digital biotransformation across the sector include collating and curating the data needed for digital biotransformation, ensuring the data is of high quality, has high integrity and accuracy, and that it is representative and includes sufficient variation, including examples of both successful and less successful runs of a production or developmental process,” she says. “The hub will address key bioprocessing research challenges by developing new bioprocess and digital models that can predict and optimize biomanufacturing processes. This will assist companies to move from the early stages of digital maturity to predictive and adaptive plants.”

Work is underway, Gras points out, explaining that researchers have already identified several digital challenges and opportunities for biotransformation.

“The team has performed recent reviews of the current state of the art, including the application of digital tools to the scaling of bioreactors and broader potential for machine learning to be applied to biopharmaceutical process development and manufacturing,” she continues. “They have also applied multi-fidelity Gaussian process modeling to bioprocessing, to represent the uncertainty in process data using Gaussian noise and to make use of high and low-fidelity data.”

In addition, the hub has played host to a series of workshops to accelerate research and development. The idea, Gras says, is to build an integrated interdisciplinary community, as well as to train staff and students in data analytics and programming.

AI opportunities

Gras also predicts artificial intelligence will be an important part of Australian biopharma’s digital development, citing AI’s ability to identify patterns in data as key.

“AI has a significant role to play in helping biopharma benefit from digital technologies. After companies become more digital, which provides more data, the next step is to assess how the data can be used to increase process understanding, optimization, and control,” she explains. “This is where AI can help to provide insights into what has happened within a process in the past, what is likely to happen in a process in the future, and how manufacturers can use this understanding to make optimal outcomes occur within their manufacturing operations.”

Interest in AI is growing, according to Gras, who adds that. “Many biopharmaceutical companies are keen to upskill in data analytics and AI and to be involved in building and customizing the infrastructure that they will need in their organizations.”

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