Digitalization at Pfizer and Biontech: The corona vaccine in ten months

Digitalization at Pfizer and Biontech: The corona vaccine in ten months


The development of an effective and safe corona vaccine often takes ten years before it is used in practice. Pfizer and Biontech managed to do this in ten months. […]

Every day, we follow the progress of the Corona vaccination campaign in the media and link this with the hope of a return to normal. One of the participants in this year’s DIGITAL LEADER AWARD, Pfizer, with its German national organisation – Pfizer Deutschland GmbH, owes the fact that we can even think about it again, just over a year after the outbreak of the pandemic. Thanks to consistent digitization, the company and its partner Biontech completed a job in ten months that would otherwise take ten years: The development of an effective and safe vaccine until its use in practice.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla laid the foundation for digitalization to make such a decisive contribution to this success just over two years ago when he converted the position of CIO into the position of “Chief Digital & Technology Officer” and appointed him to the Group Executive Board. At the same time, the divisions and Digital were combined in one department as Pfizer Digital.

As a result, digitalisation was given strategic priority within the Group and thanks to its place on the Executive Board, Pfizer Digital was involved in all phases of vaccine development from the outset. Pfizer’s central strategy in the fight against pandemics is “Science will win”. Mikael Dolsten, Chief Medical Officer of the Group, supplemented this vision with the motto “and Digital will help us to win faster”.

Even in production (look at the plant in Puurs, Belgium) nothing works without digitization (c) Pfizer Deutschland GmbH

In contrast to many other companies, the Pfizer digital team faced two challenges in spring 2020: On the one hand, it had to ensure the continuity of the business. Overnight, more than 80 percent of the employees (over 90,000 colleagues) had to move to the virtual office. On the other hand, it was necessary to accelerate vaccine development with digital innovations. In research and development, production and logistics as well as in marketing and sales.

Pfizer Digital immediately relied on a whole keyboard of state-of-the-art IT technology: AI with machine learning, real-time analytics, automation of data acquisition with its own Conform platform, smart data query, medical dashboards, Digital operations Center, augmented reality, GPS tracking, etc.And for the colleagues involved in vaccine development, IT introduced VIP support, which offered help around the clock, seven days a week.

Supply dashboards provide real-time insights into logistics data (c) Pfizer Deutschland GmbH

A few examples illustrate how Pfizer benefited from digitalization in practice. If the digital scaling of clinical studies (testing of the systems, etc.) took about four days so far, this time could now be reduced to less than six hours. With the help of the Conform platform, the data collection could be automated and at the same time the data quality could be improved with the introduction of metadata standards.

The Smart Query-a machine learning application-used for quick quality checks made it possible to issue a database share for the study 24 hours after the last subject visit. And using AI algorithms, the analysis or pattern recognition of millions of data points on the COVID-19 vaccine was relatively quickly carried out in one of Pfizer’s largest phase III studies to date, with more than 44,000 participants.

Not only in research, but also in production, nothing happened in the production of the corona vaccine without digitization. To get an overview of end-to-end production and delivery performance data, as well as to be able to predict problems and make adjustments in real time, a Digital operations Center was set up-in two weeks instead of the usual two years. Originally planned for 2,500 users at eleven locations, by the end of 2020, 8,500 users at over 30 locations were already using the tool.

In order to maintain production without experts having to travel to the individual sites, the company uses augmented reality in the production facilities and laboratories for the diagnosis and repair of equipment. Pfizer uses a tool that allows instructions to be transferred to the colleague’s screen via arrows or written text. Mobile devices and smart glasses are used as devices.

Monitoring of the cold chain was implemented via GPS tracking (c) Pfizer Deutschland GmbH

So-called COVID-19 supply dashboards provide an overview of the amount of vaccine doses produced, their delivery status, order intake, etc. They enable real-time insights into logistics data and thus promote the timely and targeted delivery of the vaccine. This also includes monitoring of the cold chain, which was implemented via real-time GPS tracking. In this way, Pfizer is able to track the temperature of shipments anywhere in the world and ensure the necessary cooling.

All in all, the consistent use of modern technologies and the adaptation of existing IT processes across the entire value chain made it possible to develop, produce and distribute a vaccine in record time. The reward of these digitization efforts: On December 8, 2020, the now 91-year-old British woman Margaret Keenan was the first person in the world to be vaccinated with the corona vaccine from Pfizer and Biontech.

* Jürgen Hill is Chief Reporter Future Technologies. The graduate journalist and computer scientist currently deals with current IT outstaffing trend topics such as AI, quantum computing, digital twins, IoT, digitization, etc.In addition, he has a long-standing background in the field of communications with all its facets (TK, mobile, LAN, WAN).

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