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How an Inventor and His Team Helped Change the Way We Make Medicines


Biopharmaceuticals are protein-based medicines that are increasingly used to treat many different diseases such as cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and clotting disorders of the blood.   Worldwide demand for these types of medicine is growing rapidly, driven by the world’s ageing population and the move towards targeted, precision treatments.

Parrish Galliher, Chief Technology Officer of Upstream BioProcess at GE Healthcare’s Life Sciences division has been recognized by editors and readers of industry magazine Medicine Maker as one of its Top 100 Power List 2015, for his vision and leadership in transforming the way biopharmaceuticals are manufactured.

A thirty-four year industry veteran, Parrish joined GE in 2012 when the company acquired Xcellerex, a developer of innovative manufacturing technologies for the biopharmaceutical industry.  Parrish founded Xcellerex in 2002 following a distinguished career in biopharmaceutical manufacturing with some of the world’s most respected pharmaceutical companies.

Parrish’s vision and achievement was to help transform the way biopharmaceuticals are manufactured, to reflect the realities and future of this fast-moving industry.   As the field progressed, it became apparent to Parrish that using traditional technologies, based on those developed for a previous generation of biopharmaceuticals, would not be sustainable and that a whole new approach was needed.

“From 1981, I suffered through two decades of stainless steel technology,” he said, speaking to The Pulse. “During that period, I helped design, build and operate four fixed stainless steel biomanufacturing facilities.  So I watched the whole process, the high-risk game, of developing drugs and getting them into the clinic. I watched them progress or fail (more likely fail) on the way to the market.  I saw a manufacturing platform that was really out of step with the speed of events in biotech and drug development.  So after two and a half decades in the industry I asked myself, ‘Do I want to go to yet another company and build another stainless steel plant?’ I was feeling rather discouraged.”

As is often the case, necessity is the mother of invention.  Galliher’s foresight and his involvement in the analysis of emerging market trends played a key role in his work.  “What we were beginning to foresee in the late nineties was the advent of patent expirations,” said Galliher. “There was going to be global competition that would put a lot of pressure on the biomanufacturing industry, and the drug industry in general.”

“Also, with the advent of genomics and the sequencing of genomes, which increased our understanding of the mechanisms behind disease, we felt there would soon be a transformation of the types of drugs that would be needed and the production levels that would be achieved.  It was clear to me that we had to change our approach, so I got involved in putting together a concept for developing a ‘factory for the future.’”

What ensued was the birth of Xcellerex, the company Galliher founded and which quickly set about developing transformative manufacturing tools and technologies.  Galliher and his team at Xcellerex took an old, slow and painstaking process and turned it into one that could keep up with the demands of an ever-changing drug industry and market.

Parrish Galliher

Parrish Galliher

The result, FlexFactory, which is based on modern single-use technologies, gives producers rapid access to key biomanufacturing processes which can be tailored to fit any new or existing facilities.  It also gives manufacturers the flexibility to modify individual processes as production needs change, or even develop a completely new production line within 9 to 12 months.

The journey was by no means easy, and Galliher’s career is a testament to determination, patience and building a great team of dedicated professionals.

“Back then you had to start building a plant five years ahead of time because that’s how long it took to build, and five years is an eternity in biotech.  Drugs come and go for all sorts of reasons, and half of the facilities were actually obsolete by the time they were completed; such is the rate of change in the industry.”

“I think, of all the skills in this industry, having an open mind and listening to dissenting opinions objectively is probably the most valuable. This is a fast-moving space and the rate of change is increasing. The more you try to protect your turf, the sooner you’re going to get lost. To be part of the solution, and not the problem, you have to be open-minded, considerate, and leave your ego at the door.”

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