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Moderna: digital transformation crucial for the vaccine’s quick speed to market


Roland Smith, Vice President of Business at Moderna, shared in a webinar how the company has relied on its digital transformation experience. Therefore, this expertise has led Moderna to accelerate its Covid-19 vaccine discovery. According to Smith, this was possible because the company relied on effective digital tools.

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Speed to market acceleration: essential in the Covid-19’s vaccine development

At the Emerson Exchange Virtual Series, Jim Nyquist, Chairman of Emerson’s Systems and Software business; and Roland Smith, Vice President of Business and GxP Systems at Moderna; talked about the relevance of implementing a digital transformation for supporting Covid-19 vaccine efforts.

For instance, Nyquist said that 2020 changed the way industries work, operate, and connect. Moreover, many companies needed to adapt. Therefore, organizations restructured themselves. In fact, this was necessary to keep everything functioning.

“To accomplish things that were impossible five years ago; and inconceivable ten years ago, companies needed to do significant changes” Nyquist said.

The Life Sciences Industry: an essential one

To illustrate, some potent transformations were evident in two essential industries: the Power and the Life and Sciences sectors. Therefore, two sectors necessary to keep everyone alive

For instance, developing an effective vaccine was a huge effort. To illustrate, Roland Smith shared his experience leading the digital transformation of pharmaceutical manufacturing at Moderna, to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market in record time.

“Prior to coronavirus, the world had never discovered, tested, and produced a new vaccine in under four years,” said Nyquist. “But with the pressure of the pandemic and using today’s digital technologies; Moderna and others have done that in under one year.”

Digital Transformation steps at Moderna

Indeed, Smith said that a year ago, Moderna’s primary efforts on digital transformation were mainly three. First, the decision in 2016 to build a manufacturing site to obtain its first physical trial results.

Second, the company’s decision to become digital-first. Through mature tool-kits like Emerson’s technology Delta V, this was possible.

Third, the implementation of analytics and data for their use and learning. In this regard, Smith shared: “Equipment is smarter, so companies are delivering more complex products into the market much quicker.”

Moreover, one key breakthrough in terms of technology has been the cloud. For Moderna this is a key enabler to build resiliency, and data storage through a Data Warehouse; non-existing five years ago.”

Then, the main barrier that Moderna has found along its digital transformation process; is from a design perspective, balancing flexibility control.

Other big challenges

Equally important is the particular needs for the clinical industry. “Because we’re talking about clinical manufacturing, we needed to have flexibility while maintaining compliance,” said Smith.  

In addition, “culture was one big consideration. We had our CEO’s support, but our industry tends to have more sideloads in general. As a result, we really needed to show leaders how to break down those barriers and do things differently.”

Hence, what enabled Moderna to do this was trust and collaboration through cross-process meetings. Specifically, Smith explained that these meetings were founded on a waterfall methodology to get technology in front of users sooner.

Finally, Smith mentioned the three key components of Moderna’s digitalization process: compliance, operational excellence, and data. In brief, Smith concluded: “Start early, as early as you can. Then, thinking big is important.”

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