Behind the Investment: How Apprentice is “Speeding Up” The Pharma Manufacturing Process
At Insight, we have the privilege to support and work alongside the best companies leading their industries, whether through a truly next-gen product, a new way of thinking, or a category-creating idea. What makes the work even more exciting are those rare instances when a company is also tackling The Big Problems - the ones helping us take meaningful steps towards a better world and, in even rarer cases, have a hand in saving lives. This is what we found in Apprentice, and why we decided to lead a $7.5M funding round.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in scope and scale, and has turned a spotlight onto the innerworkings of healthcare and life sciences. For Pharma, this meant many of the inefficiencies and dependencies afflicting the industry were exposed for all to see. Travel screeched to a halt, site access limitations and personnel constraints disrupted supply chains, and the world looked to pharma to develop and manufacture critical COVID-19 treatments, all while also continuing to manufacture everyday lifesaving products.
Long before the pandemic, pharma had been undergoing a significant shift: with the rise of biologics and personalized medicine, drug manufacturing was becoming more and more complex, increasingly manual, and even more expensive (you can liken the development of a Small Molecule drug to that of a bicycle and the development of a Biologic to that of an airplane). The results of this are twofold:
- companies often face the problem of too many facilities and too few experts to meet their needs; this shortage of engineers requires significant travel to get the expertise where it needs to be, particularly while scaling up manufacturing capabilities.
- with increasingly fewer automated operations and unsophisticated software systems in place, processes are more exposed to human error, causing slower speed to market, higher deviations, and ultimately drug shortages.
Legacy MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) have failed to adapt, and procedures remain largely paper-based, inflexible, and lacking in real-time collaboration capabilities.
Now enter COVID-19: a desperate demand for rapid production expansion, but the expertise is grounded, and existing software systems simply aren't good enough. What is the solution?
We first spoke with Angelo, Co-Founder and CEO, towards the end of 2019 when we made the short trek to Apprentice’s office from Manhattan to Jersey City. Even then it was immensely clear that this team had massive vision: stepping into the demo room was like getting a sneak peek into the elusive Industry 4.0. Apprentice's flagship product, Tandem, tackles the "expertise" problem: this is a real-time, hardware agnostic collaboration platform enabled by Augmented Reality. It is fully FDA-compliant, meaning site audits, training, troubleshooting, and drug product transfer can happen 100% remotely without compromising quality standards or critical timelines. The broader Apprentice platform covers the rest: this is an end-to-end solution for the batch production process, including batch planning and campaign scheduling, instructional guidance on the factory floor that can be "augmented" with linked resources, records, etc., predictive resource management, and intelligent data capture across workflows for reporting, monitoring, and analytics.
Not only had Apprentice created a platform addressing the key operational issues facing the industry, but had done so with a tailor-made solution that was uniquely flexible. When the pandemic hit, demand for Tandem reached an all-time high which Apprentice was able to meet with their newly developed Rapid Deployment Kits. These out-of-the-box, pre-configured kits gave customers the ability to start using the product immediately, and teams quickly began rolling these out across sites at an unprecedented speed. As travel restrictions loosen and employees return to the labs, we believe we will see another surge in demand for next-gen software solutions from pharma, but this time for technology more deeply engrained across operational functions. Recent events have made it clear that innovation for pharma is no longer something to aspire towards for the future, but a change that needs to be made now.
Today, Apprentice supports Fortune 100 clients across life sciences, and their platform is being leveraged to manufacture potential candidates for a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine. Clinical treatments and products can't wait, and the funding from this investment round will ensure that Apprentice can continue to deliver to their customers, ultimately enabling pharma to get more critical drugs out the door at a faster rate, whether that be the COVID-19 vaccine, your everyday medication, or a life-saving cancer treatment.
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