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OM in the News: Formula One Teams Up With Drug Makers

December 20, 2014
Motor sport data analytics and precision engineering may be the skills needed to boost productivity at GSK

Motor sport data analytics and precision engineering may be the skills needed to boost productivity at GSK

For the past three years, the UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline has been working with the McLaren Formula One racing team to find ways of making its drug development and manufacturing processes more efficient, writes The Financial Times (Dec.10, 2014).  It might not be immediately obvious what GSK has to learn from a company best known for its supercars and motor-racing team. The speed of F1 could hardly be more different from the 10-15-year development cycles typical of the pharmaceuticals industry. But McLaren says that its strengths in precision engineering and data analytics are just the kind of skills needed by GSK as it aims to become more productive.

Perhaps the clearest dividend of the partnership so far has come not in drug development but in GSK’s consumer healthcare business. McLaren was asked to scrutinize a toothpaste manufacturing facility and work out how to boost efficiency. “We noticed that they were making lots of small batches of different products with a lot of down time in between,” says a McLaren exec. “They said: ‘If you can change four tires on a racing car in 2 seconds why does it take us 2 hours to do a changeover?’” Within a year, lost time had been cut by 60%, using principles similar to those that govern the pit-stops for a racing car. “It’s about everyone knowing their job and doing it well. Afterwards, we analyze every detail — what went well, what didn’t and how we can improve.”

But the biggest ambitions for the partnership come in R&D. Much of the cost and time it takes to develop a drug is consumed in the clinical trial process needed to prove safety and efficacy. McLaren is working with GSK on technology to allow real-time monitoring of patients rather than the sporadic check-ups that can sometimes lead to unreliable trial results. Creating flexible, responsive strategies in this way is increasingly possible in business as flows of data improve.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What do racing and drug manufacturing have in common?

2. Why is real-time monitoring of drug patients so valuable?

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