Keeping the Plant Open During the Pandemic: Five Observations About the New Normal

COVID-19 has changed how we live our daily lives but it also has changed how we work.

Posted: July 21, 2020

API Manufacturing and Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

This article takes a look at temporary and long-term changes at Seqens NA.

As a Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization (CDMO), our manufacturing work has continued throughout the pandemic because it’s deemed as essential. The vast majority of our employees have remained on the plant floor.

To stay open, we’ve had to rethink basic processes. We’ve put in place new processes for handwashing, eating in the cafeteria to limit the number of people in any location, and what to do if an employee feels sick. Each employee knows that if (s)he has any symptoms, it’s imperative to stay home and to contact this/her supervisor so that contact tracing can begin.

As always, we remain diligent about maintaining the cleanliness of our facilities, including cleanrooms and GMP suites. We carefully control the quality of the air and clean internal surfaces and equipment. We have strict, validated protocols in place for cleaning GMP suites in between each project. We conduct regular monitoring and testing and we’re recertified annually.

TECH TRANSFER

We’ve always had face masks on hand but now we hand out face masks to all employees, even those who don’t work on the plant floor.

Because there was a shortage of sanitizer early on during the crisis, we manufactured our own hand sanitizer and distributed it to our employees, and continue to use it in dispensers around our facilities. (We also distributed our hand sanitizer to local area first responders in Newburyport and Stoneham, MA, as a way to thank them for what they do.)

Here are some observations about the work itself.

  1. Employees are heroes. We’ve had some employees express concerns during this time, and our senior team is directly involved. This is an uncertain time without precedent, and we’ve found ways to make employees comfortable and confident. We’ve made it easier if an employee has to stay home because they’re taking care of a family member who has COVID-19.
  2. Old technology speeds up decision making. Everyone talks about Zoom and videoconferencing as helping business teams to communicate almost as if they’re face to face. We’ve had to adjust to a new way to work with sponsors and potential sponsors but the phone is proving to be a very effective tool for us. For example, we’ve found that getting in touch with sponsors is easier now. They’re now working from home offices, and are easier to reach by phone. We can get to decisions more efficiently, actually.
  3. New projects continue but site visits decline. Prospective sponsors have often requested site tours, and we’ve always been happy to conduct them. Our close rate is very high when clients can see our facilities and equipment for themselves and can talk with our team. While we’re still winning new projects, we’ve found that COVID-19-related projects move quickly while non-COVID-19 related ones move more slowly due to uncertainty in the market, funding, etc., and because making consensus decisions is harder when the discussion is conducted over Zoom rather than across the table. (These sorts of decisions are different from yes-or-no decisions related to ongoing projects, as stated above.)
  4. Sponsors are moving forward without site audits. Before COVID-19, prospective sponsors required facility audits to make sure we have the capabilities, equipment, and people needed to handle their projects. In the old, pre-COVID-19world, clients wouldn’t move forward without an audit. But these days, out of necessity because they can’t easily get to our facilities to conduct audits, prospective sponsors have become more flexible.
  5. No change in demand or in the type of projects. Whilenon-COVID-19 projects may take longer to come in, we’ve been signing NDAs and generating proposals at the same rates as before the pandemic. That hasn’t changed.

Ultimately, the way we interact and converse now have changed somewhat but the work remains the same. As always, we’re ready to adapt quickly to change, and we remain committed to the safety of our employees and to our sponsors’ projects.

If you’d like to talk with us about how we keep on track during a pandemic, please call us at (978) 462-5555 or email us at info@pcisynthesis.com.

About the Author

Ed Price CEO of PCI Synthesis
Ed is President & CEO of SEQENS North America (formerly PCI Synthesis). He serves as a co-chair of the New England CRO/CMO Council and sits on the Industrial Advisory Board for the Department of Chemical Engineering at UMass, Amherst. Ed is also a long standing member of the American Chemical Society and advises the Bulk Pharmaceutical Task Force of the Society of Chemical Manufacturer’s and Affiliates (SOCMA)...

Do you have questions? Talk to Ed.