Driving digital transformation of Australia’s biopharmaceutical sector with new ARC Hub

Launch of new ARC Hub
Back row, left to right: James Atherton, Matthias Zimmermann, Kym Baker, Dr Anthony Stowers. Front row, left to right: Professor James McCluskey, Professor Sally Gras, Dr Richard Johnson

A new Australian Research Council (ARC) Hub to help forge an internationally competitive Australian biopharmaceutical sector using digitisation and artificial intelligence (AI) in pharmaceutical manufacturing is being launched today at the University of Melbourne.

ARC Acting CEO Dr Richard Johnson is officially launching the ARC Digital Bioprocess Development Hub – a five-year, $18 million research program, which has received $5 million in ARC funding, to advance scientific knowledge and allow an interdisciplinary team of engineers, scientists and computing specialists to develop new capabilities. These will include digitally-integrated, advanced and innovative manufacturing processes that capture and use big data and provide a platform for industry adoption.

Australia’s biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry supplies a rapidly growing domestic and international market for pharmaceuticals and vaccines, and its 2022 sector valuation of AUD $12 billion is expected to grow as an ageing population, the need for onshore manufacturing capability and the commercialisation of our medical research all converge.

The Hub involves collaboration between the University of Melbourne, University of Technology Sydney, RMIT University, global biotechnology company CSL, Cytiva and Patheon Biologics Australia, part of Thermo Fisher Scientific. It will also engage with Yokogawa Insilico Biotechnology, Mass Dynamics and Sartorius Stedim Australia, as well as international universities, including The University of Nottingham, Utrecht University and the University of Tartu (Estonia).

ARC Acting CEO Dr Richard Johnson said: “The Hub marks an important step for the biopharmaceutical industry in Australia. It will identify opportunities for digital innovation across biopharma, in manufacturing and emerging biotech companies for new data-driven insights, products and services, with enormous potential for Australian companies and our highly skilled biotech workforce.

“This will improve Australia’s technical leadership and international visibility in a strategically important area of future growth, and build new, national research and innovation capacity that will continue to attract industry investment and provide a sustained, long-term, transformational benefit to the biopharma sector.”

University of Melbourne Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor James McCluskey said the University of Melbourne is ideally placed to lead the new Hub.

“Together with our partners, the University is delighted to be providing the expertise, facilities and leadership needed to propel this exciting industry development in Australia,” Professor McCluskey said.

University of Melbourne Professor Sally Gras of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) will lead the Hub as its Director.

Professor Gras said the Hub’s program will address key bioprocessing research challenges and develop new process and digital models that can predict and optimise manufacturing processes.

“The ARC Digital Bioprocess Development Hub will help position Australia’s biopharma manufacturing sector to benefit from Industry 4.0, which integrates new technologies including AI and machine learning to production processes to allow for better decision making in real-time,” Professor Gras said.

“The Hub will provide the critical mass of researchers and expertise needed to address key biopharma research challenges and an outreach program that will help achieve rapid translation and up-take of new digital and process technologies, improving access to new therapies and treatments.”

CSL’s Senior Vice President, Biopharmaceutical Product Development, Dr Anthony Stowers said the Hub will “develop new tools and process models to provide a step change improvement in the manufacture of critical medicines, such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines, which aligns strongly with CSL’s promise to deliver for patients, and the broader sector need for digitally integrated manufacturing”.

“The outcomes of this research will frame a sector roadmap that will stimulate innovation, provide upskilling and improve digital readiness, helping to ensure long-term international competitiveness of Australian biopharmaceutical manufacturing,” Dr Stowers said.